Guide to Baseball Fiction: Matt Christopher

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Matt Christopher (1917-1997) is probably the most prolific author of juvenile sports novels. Below are some of his baseball titles.

Christopher wrote for different age groups. Titles in black below are intermediate/young adult novels; titles in orange are the "Peach Street Mudders" series of "Springboard" first chapter books, and titles in green are junior readers for younger children.

Routine character-building type of story.

Brisk and lively use of what would become some of Christopher's major themes.

Another change rung on the theme of jump-starting a kid's self-confidence.

Interesting for its management of the theme of a boy struggling to live up to his father's expectations.

Well, he isn't.

Nicely illustrated early reader.

Entertaining junior reader.

A weird and wonderful story, mixing baseball action and family romance.

Deliberate intervention in social themes that stops just short of didacticism; an intelligent look at divorce from the child's perspective.

A book that has become a juvenile archetype, mostly because it follows the classic pattern for a magical baseball story, wherein the hero succeeds through magic and then, forced to fall back on his own resources, learns to believe in himself, not the magic. Its sequel is not as lively. See Allison & Hill for a precursor.

Christopher, as always, fosters tolerance, but most of this novel is game action, with the social message on low simmer in the background.

Mixes the new-kid-fits-in theme with the theme of the lucky charm that turns out to be a placebo. The 1954 original was Christopher's first juvenile book.

Slighter than its other peer volumes.

This book never develops a strong "hook." I sense that Christopher perhaps wanted to write about a mildly retarded protagonist, but got either coy or distracted. Much of the book is taken up with two near-random subplots: concern over two pets (a chihuahua and a falcon) and an inexplicable vacation in Idaho.

Forthright anti-racist themes characterize this story, which also features a sympathetic long-haired character in bell-bottoms who drives a dune buggy.

Lame by comparison to some of Christopher's other stories; seems to lose its own concentration, as its protagonist does.

Not as effective as the original.

The book is much less about its title character than about its American protagonist and his growth toward tolerance, which is accomplished in a strange and almost begrudging way.

The book resolves its central issue--one surrounding a kid who feels exceptional and therefore self-conscious, but learns to deal with it--in a decidedly strange way.

Tolerance for the new kid is a favorite Christopher theme, but what if the new kid is about to take your job away?

Curious and disjointed novel, sort like of Bang the Drum Slowly reworked as a children's chapter book.

The Kid Who Only Hit Homers crossed bizarrely with themes from Ira Levin's Stepford Wives. This novel is highly intriguing. Christopher's first with a girl protagonist, it culminates in the girls returning to normal--and happily losing their final game as their natural old selves.

That's a lot for one youth novel, and the story eventually abandons its main baseball plot to concentrate on its social subplot.

The title sort of eliminates any suspense about what the team does under Mom's leadership . . . a subplot concerns a rich teammate's inability to fit in because he is too privileged.

Archetypal kid-in-search-of-a-dad baseball story.