An essay from David A. Kelly!
The Ballpark Mysteries: Accessible titles for transitioning readers!
Sometimes, reading is scary.
Consider this email I received from a mother who had purchased one of my Ballpark Mysteries books for her son Charlie:
After meeting you at the book festival, Charlie was so excited to read his first chapter book. But that evening he became petrified to read your book. The “chapter book” stereotype got to him. He cried when it was time to read so we read the first chapter together, “The Green Monster.” Charlie went on to read two more chapters that night and then early that morning he awoke with me at 5:30am and we read together by book light, each reading our own books sitting in rocking chairs. Charlie finished your book in 3 days. He was SO proud of himself, and he sleeps with your book next to his bed on his nightstand.
That’s the thing about my Ballpark Mysteries books. They’re great for kids who are scared of reading. Or bored by reading. Or simply uninterested in reading.
The Ballpark Mysteries are mysteries set in Major League baseball stadiums. They mix fact and fiction and provide multiple entry points for less interested readers to connect with the stories.
That’s important to me, as the author, because when I was young, I struggled to read. Eventually I figured it out and got hooked on mysteries and histories, but it took a while and some dedicated teachers and librarians. My two sons learned to read more easily than I did, but they didn’t connect with books right away, either. My older son was a lot like Charlie, excited to delve into stories, but afraid to try it on his own.
Those are the readers I’m hoping to “catch” with my Ballpark Mysteries series. The Ballpark Mysteries support interest-based learning through a variety of connections, such as sports, competition, geography, history, and mysteries:
- Sports. Lots of girls and boys have favorite baseball teams. Or love to play baseball, catch, or just about any sport. When they were younger, my sons wouldn’t leave the house without a tennis ball or baseball in their hand—a habit I’ve given to one of my characters, Mike. Whether they follow professional baseball teams or not, many activity-loving kids can connect with the baseball setting and sports action in my books.
- Competition. I never loved competitive activities when I was young, but my sons were a different matter. When they were young, everything was a competition. Who could swim more laps? Who could walk to school faster? Who could hold their breath longer? For some readers, competitive situations (like the baseball games in my books or a race against time for to solve a mystery for my main characters Mike and Kate) are super-engaging. They fuel the reader’s passion for the story and reading.
- Geography. Sixteen of the Ballpark Mysteries are team books, based in a specific city and stadium, and four are Super Specials that feature sports-centric locations, such as the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Little League World Series, the World Series, and a New York City Subway Series. The books can be read in any order. So readers can start with their local team, such as the Red Sox, Yankees, or Rockies. Or they can start with the team they play on for Little League (many are named after MLB teams). I’ve seen many readers who begin with a parent’s or grandparent’s favorite team, or even a city where they went on vacation. In a fun twist, parents of Ballpark Mysteries fans have planned family vacations around one or more of my books. For example, one family followed in Mike and Kate’s footsteps in The Rookie Blue Jay, visiting Niagara Falls, watching a game at the Toronto Blue Jays stadium, visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame, and staying in the hotel that’s actually inside the stadium!
- History and real places. As someone who loves reading and learning about history, I enjoy incorporating historical information and real places into my mysteries. In The San Francisco Splash Kate and Mike ride the cable cars and visit Alcatraz. In The Rangers Rustlers they visit Forth Worth Texas for a cattle drive. And in The Baltimore Bandit they learn about Babe Ruth. In addition, each book contains a chapter of non-fiction information about the team, stadium, city, history, and important players. This information captures readers who are looking for real connections to their world.
- Mystery. I grew up watching the Scooby Doo van tool around to different locations, chasing down mummies, missing dogs, and haunted houses. I draw on similar, but slightly different mysteries for the Ballpark Mysteries (although, yes, The Cardinals Caper has a missing dog!). Mysteries are a great way to engage a certain segment of readers and non-readers, kids who like puzzles and like the challenging aspect of trying to figure out the answer before my characters do.
From talking with students during school visits, where I share my writing process with first through fifth graders, and from receiving mail from readers and parents I know that there are lots of kids, like Charlie, who struggle with reading. Those are the readers that I love to catch with my Ballpark Mysteries series!