In this perfectly pitched novel-in-letters, autistic eleven-year-old Vivy Cohen won't let anything stop her from playing baseball--not when she has a major-league star as her pen pal.
Vivy Cohen is determined. She's had enough of playing catch in the park. She's ready to pitch for a real baseball team.
But Vivy's mom is worried about Vivy being the only girl on the team, and the only autistic kid. She wants Vivy to forget about pitching, but Vivy won't give up. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone, Vivy knows exactly who to choose: her hero, Major League pitcher VJ Capello. Then two amazing things happen: A coach sees Vivy's amazing knuckleball and invites her to join his team. And VJ starts writing back!
Now Vivy is a full-fledged pitcher, with a catcher as a new best friend and a steady stream of advice from VJ. But when a big accident puts her back on the bench, Vivy has to fight to stay on the team.---from the publisher
336 pages 978-0525554189 Ages 8-12
Keywords: letters, person with autism, baseball, sports, gender roles, gender equality, friends, friendship, acceptance, accepting others, diversity, diverse books, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old
“When I was thirteen, I was told to quit baseball because I was a girl. The message was delivered by the coach of a ‘co-ed” youth league, which was only co-ed because I was still playing in it. I decided during that stilted conversation that I would play forever.
My experience was hardly unusual. About 100,000 girls play baseball at the youth level at some point. Only about 1,400 girls go on to play high school baseball. What happens to those almost 99,000 girls? Their love of the game doesn’t just go away. They’re told it’s time to quit. I get emails on a regular basis from girls who are told by high school educators that they are not allowed to play. And, as though that wasn’t bad enough, I also get notes about 7-year-olds being told not to sign up like their brothers. Those two things are connected and unacceptable.”
--Justine Siegal, PhD, Sports educator, and the first woman to ever pitch a major league batting practice.
Find out what it means to me”
-- Aretha Franklin (1967)
“You weren’t like the others. They talked to us in loud voices, which was pretty stupid because being autistic doesn’t mean you can’t hear anything. They used that funny voice teachers do sometimes, the one that needs to explaaain thiinnggs veeeeerry sloooowllly. Not you.
You saw me wandering around in the back corner and came up to me with a big smile on your face. You tried talking to me, but I don’t talk to strangers.
I fought very, very hard against the urge to run. I wanted so much to get back to my own room, away from all the strangers and their big voices and stinky armpits.
That’s when you pulled out a baseball and showed me your knuckleball grip--four fingers clenched into a fist.
‘The knuckleball is a very special pitch,’ you said. ‘It completely defies the laws of physics because it doesn’t spin in the air like other balls. Try it.’
I didn’t understand much about physics and stuff, but I liked the idea of throwing a super-special pitch. Except I didn’t think it would be a very good idea to throw a baseball with all those people right there. ‘Now?’ I asked.
You laughed. ‘Not in the clubhouse! But when you get home, will you give it a try?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
You smiled. ‘I think you’ll like it.’
When I went home that night, I tried throwing the knuckleball for real. The first two pitches bounced into the grass. Then the third pitch sailed right over the backyard fence, so I lost the ball forever. Nate got really mad at me, because I borrowed it from him without asking. Oops. After that I asked Mom and Dad for my very own baseball. Even though it was hard, I knew I wanted to learn the pitch that defies the laws of physics. Your pitch.”
Three years ago, while on an Autism Foundation outing to a minor league baseball game, Vivy Cohen met Black pitcher VJ Capello in the clubhouse after the game. Now, having practiced daily to perfect her knuckleball pitch, Vivy impresses the coach of a local youth league team. He sees her practicing at a park, and offers her the opportunity to join his team. Vivy’s mom initially resists the idea. Her mother’s protectiveness will be a regular source of frustration and conflict for Vivy in her first season of youth baseball.
Just as she’s beginning her baseball career, Vivy writes a letter to VJ to fulfill a class assignment. Three years after meeting him, he’s now a star Major League pitcher. She doesn’t immediately receive a reply, but she enjoys the assignment, so she begins writing to him regularly about her progress on and off the field. Eventually VJ responds. He’s friendly and gracious, and they soon transition to frequent correspondences via email. GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! is written entirely in those back-and-forth letters and emails.
Vivy’s autism and gender make her stick out on a team whose other members are all boys. A few of the boys accept and befriend her, particularly the team’s catcher. Unfortunately, she's bullied by the coach’s son, Kyle, another pitcher, who doesn’t know anything about throwing knuckleballs.
As a Black man, who has been the victim of racism, VJ understands and commiserates with Vivy over her struggles on and off the field. He encourages her to report the bullying to an adult. He tells her that he reserves the right to let her father know if she is not willing or able to do it herself.
Baseball is a challenge for Vivy, but she’s got a big brother who plays, and a father who’s a fan. She’s caught the fever and wants to play. She turns out to be a gutsy kid who, after getting sidelined with an injury, is chafing at the bit to get back in the game.
Baseball isn’t Vivy’s only challenge. Non-autistic readers will be enlightened by reading about how Vivy processes and reacts to parental interactions. At one point, her mother's over-protectiveness triggers a meltdown. The story memorably depicts Vivy’s experience:
“My brain screamed at me and wouldn’t shut up. So I attacked my own hair. My fingers trembled so much I couldn’t actually grip the strands, but I wanted so much to just tear it all out. Rip off my skin. Do something--anything--that would help me feel something besides the horribleness. Except the horrible had already seeped all over me. It got underneath my fingernails. Between my teeth. Into the spaces between my toes.”
Three cheers for young knuckleballer Vivy Cohen! This is a very cool story. Despite the challenges, Vivy is able to get back on the mound and end her season on a high note. Like millions of other players, from Little Leagues through the Majors, the story ends with the promise of another season to come next year.
Let’s hope that Americans belatedly come to their senses. There is no reason why young women who wish to do so shouldn’t be permitted to compete on an equal footing with young men in youth league, high school league, and college league. Nearly fifty years after enactment of Title IX, there’s no excuse for denying young women equal opportunity in baseball.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
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