Jack Mogens is a sixth grader at Tall Pines Elementary School. It’s late March as he begins his sixth season playing Little League baseball for the Tall Pines Braves.
Jack gets “plunked” on the side of his head while batting on Opening Day. The hit shakes his confidence to the point where he’s now afraid of inside pitches.
Compounding Jack’s challenge is the “revenge pitch” he takes during the team’s following practice. His nemesis, Kurt “Malfoy” Beacham, heard him talking smack about him in school; and throws a pitch, hitting him in the ribs.
Nightmares haunt Jack, where a faceless pitcher is throwing balls at him, while glued to the batter’s box. His anxiety builds, forcing him to feign injury to avoid playing in next weekend’s game.
“Family emergency” is Jack’s excuse as to why he missed Saturday’s competition. His teammates and buddies aren’t buying it in the cafeteria Monday morning. Jack finds his deceptions becoming harder to conceal.
Depressed, Jack unexpectedly coins the phrase, “open to mopin” when Andy Rossiter, (his best friend since second grade) questions his attitude.
Andy helps Jack save face with his buddies after missing Saturday’s game. Their ultimate connection occurs at the Tall Pines Family Pharmacy while thumbing through comic books.
In an awkward moment of silence and avoided eye contact, Jack knows he owes Andy an explanation why he missed Saturday’s game. When Andy asks, he exposes himself emotionally and admits his fear of getting hit by the ball. Andy affirms his feelings by responding, “Everyone is a little scared of the ball sometimes.” It’s a poignant display of emotions between two boys; not often encouraged in today’s society.
Northrop has a talent for crafting narrative relatable to middle school-aged children: “but don’t even pretend you’ve never faked a fever or blamed the cat for breaking something or anything like that. Don’t even pretend to pretend.” He also addresses doing homework and riding the school bus: “Right on cue, the bus pulls up, and its doors open. Shut up and get in it says.”
Jack enjoys a loving relationship with his parents. They attend all of his games; and watch Major League Baseball together at home.
Even so, he sometimes frets over their parental control. Regarding his computer access: “Mom and dad have so many filters on this thing, it’s a wonder anything gets through. Like St. Paul the Apostle could send me a personal email telling me to study hard, and it would end up in the spam folder.”
Collecting Major League Baseball cards with his father is one of the duo’s favorite pastimes. Viewing his dad’s most prize-possessed rookie card, Cal Ripken, Jr., Jack shamefully realizes that Ripken Jr. would never fear inside pitches or let his team down. Baseball bobbleheads, a row of baseballs, and a big poster from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Jack’s bedroom also provide him an a-ha moment.
Jack’s emerging sexuality is evident in his awareness of the team’s shortstop, Katie Bowes: “She glances up and I look down fast. I don’t think she saw.”
What kid doesn’t have a favorite pet that’s part of their being? Jack has his in Nax, a black Labrador retriever. Nax sleeps at the foot of Jack’s bed; and knows when he’s happy or upset.
Baseball language complements Plunked, including “ducks on the pond” (two men on base with two outs).
Well-written literature transcends time. The release of Plunked this March however, complements the start of Little League and Major League Baseball, making it an ideal read for any sports-minded kid.
If you’re an educator looking to assign, or suggest a book for your middle school-aged boys, Plunked is it. If you’re a parent anticipating your child’s summer reading assignment, or support reading in your kids (especially boys), you’ll hit a home run with Plunked.
To view excellent literature, written for grade school children and young adults, including author interviews and give-aways, visit: http://www.scholastic.com/kids/stacks/?lnkid=stacks/nav/home/main.