You know it’s almost baseball season here when my son starts asking for us to read-aloud books about the sport. We picked up Fantasy Baseball, which is not about the game lots of people play in picking and trading players online. Instead, it is a very interesting novel by Alan Gratz in which a young boy, Alex, finds himself inside a fantasy world — Ever After — where the winners of a baseball tournament can ask the Wizard of Oz for a wish.
Yes, the Wizard of Oz. Gratz mixes up all sorts of literary characters (Toad, from Wind in the Willows, for example, is a mighty talented short stop) and book references (from Holes to Alice in Wonderland) in this witty book. At first, it just seems like a whimsical story. Alex thinks he is dreaming and goes with the flow — he loves to play baseball, so why not? He is bound to wake up eventually, right? Then, the Big Bad Wolf tries to eat him and the onion skin of the story starts to reveal itself.
It turns out that Alex is actually the Dreamself (or, as they are called, a Lark) of someone else — Alex, the boy in real life — and that boy is dying of cancer, and as Alex the boy fades, so too does Alex the Dreamboy. It’s up to Alex the Dreamboy/Lark to save Alex the Human, and that means winning the baseball tournament to get the wish. Gratz does a nice job of balancing the fantasy of the story and characters (even slyly referencing one of his own characters from another baseball novel that we are reading right now: Samurai Shortstop) and the tragic decline of a young child battling cancer.
Peace (in the big play),