Whether it's baseball or the spelling bee, almost every child knows what it feels like to win and lose. Losing can be difficult, especially when your friends soar ahead.
And even winners can feel discouraged when they can't share the joys of victory with a close friend who has lost. But the fun doesn't have to center around the final score.
Tim Egan's latest book, Roasted Peanuts, is a tale of two best friends who both love baseball – although one is an all-star while the other struggles just to run the bases.
Through his endearing characters, Egan explores the true nature of friendship and importance of good sportsmanship in an era when overzealous soccer moms and dads have been asked to settle down on the sidelines.
For years, Sam (a fit-looking horse) and Jackson (a chubby cat) have enjoyed playing ball together. But while Sam clearly has talent, Jackson can hardly compete – except for his excellent throwing arm.
The gap in their athletic skills doesn't affect their friendship – or ability to have fun. In fact, Sam always encourages his pal: "Another great throw," he says. "You're a natural, Jackson." To which Jackson replies, "Yeah. You and me, Sammy. We're gonna be legends."
But when the two try out for their local baseball team, their paths on the diamond veer apart. Sam easily lands a spot on the team; Jackson doesn't make the cut. "Well, at least one of us will be a legend," Jackson laments.
Sam practices hard, but without his buddy around, it's no longer any fun – and his performance sags.
Then Jackson discovers a way to attend baseball games and use his talent for throwing without actually joining the team. (Fresh, roasted peanuts anyone?) With Jackson there, Sam's spirits – and performance – pick up. Meanwhile, Jackson breaks records of his own. Together, they become legends in different, but equally memorable ways.
Egan's bright, simple illustrations, delightful story line, and gentle sense of humor will appeal to children, regardless of whether they like baseball. He infuses his animal characters with emotional richness. Though "Roasted Peanuts" is aimed at 4- to 8-year-olds, my toddler thoroughly enjoyed the vivid colors, lively personalities, and an introduction to the Great American Pastime.
Most important, Egan's story underscores that every child brings a unique talent to life's playing field. The book also offers universal lessons about loyalty, persistence, and other character traits that make someone a real winner. It's a home run for any child, athletic or not.
• Stephanie Cook Broadhurst is a Monitor editor.