Steam Shovels and Pitching Machines

Beezus and Ramona (Henry-Ramona #4)
After a decidedly supporting role in the previous Henry-centric books, the Quimby girls get their own outing here, told from Beezus’s point of view. The Quimbys live in the same neighborhood as Henry Huggins, though on the next street over. Beezus, the same age as Henry, is in his class at school, though like the other books in the series, school is glossed over for the most part with the action taking place after school and on weekends while the kids are at home. Most of the adventures, as one would expect from Ramona’s earlier appearances, involve four year old Ramona causing problems for Beezus through her stubbornness and lack of experience. Cleary’s skill at characterization prevents either of the girls from becoming annoying and the situations are completely believable. There are at least two versions of the book — one with the original illustrations by Louis Darling and one with newer illustrations by Tracy Dockray. The version I had was illustrated by Dockray, whose skill is extremely uneven. Her talent at drawing pre-schoolers is amazing — Ramona and her friends practially lept off the page they were so perfect. But her efforts at Beezus and the adults in the story were pretty wooden.

Henry and the Paper Route (Henry-Ramona #5)
Cleary returns to her original protaganist in Henry and the Paper Route. Here we find Henry Huggins looking to improve his finances by getting a paper route like some of the other boys in the area. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of routes, and you also have to be eleven, which he isn’t quite yet. Henry’s antics in this book recall his earlier adventures in the original Henry Huggins which involved a large number of animals. There’s an extended episode with some kittens here which I found extremely entertaining. And though one would expect the emphasis on the paper route to date the book somewhat (though paper routes were still done by child employees when I was a kid, my feeling is that nowadays what few ‘routes’ remain are generally covered by adults in cars), there’s a surprisingly modern feel to some of the scenes. In particular, a new kid moves in to the street and promptly begins building a robot! (The book was originally published in 1957, remember!) That would still be impressive to any kid today. There’s also one illustration in the book which I loved: Ramona sitting on a street curb, biding her time until she can be evil again. The whole series continues to be of high quality.

Cross Game 1 (v1-3)
Cross Game is a relatively recent baseball manga from baseball manga legend Mitsuru Adachi. Far from being your typical sports manga, a battle manga in disguise, Adachi provides his characters with a more complex backstory and motivations for what they’re doing. The first three volumes serve to introduce the main characters, taking them through five years of their lives and establishing the particular sequence of events which has brought each of them to their current status. Volume three is where the present day actually starts, with most of our cast in their first year of high school — a high school which has just this year decided to bring in outside ringers to beef up its baseball program and make a run at Koshien. The old coach and the local players have been sidelined to make room for these (predictably) unsportsmanlike players and a new, ambitious, arrogant coach. The volume ends as the new varsity team is planning a scrimmage against what they view as the inferior leftover team (most often called ‘portable team’ by the translation, though many times we see the label ‘farm’ and the use of the word ‘varsity’ would also imply that perhaps they’re j.v.). Hopefully the next volume, which contains Japanese vol 4-5, will contain the whole of this game and not leave us hanging again!

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