• Happy birthday Mercer Mayer (A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog; There’s a Nightmare in My Closet).
  • It’s the birth date of Rudyard Kipling (1856–1936) The Jungle Book, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.
  • The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is formed in 1922. Read The Endless Steppe: Growing up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig.
  • In 1940, California opens its first freeway, the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Read Highway Cats by Janet Taylor Lisle, illustrated by David Frankland.
  • It’s Falling Needles Family Fest Day, for those of you how have Yule conifer in your home.

December 30, 1935, marks the birthday of Sandy Koufax, left-handed pitcher for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. When inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, Koufax became the youngest player to receive that honor. But 1972 happened in the dark ages if you are six to ten. How can a baseball player of that time period be made relevant to young readers?

From the lenticular cover, where viewers watch Koufax whirl back and pitch, through the final glossary, everything in Jonah Winter’s You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! strikes just the right note for young sports enthusiasts. In a story told by one of Koufax’s teammates, the narrator brags about his hero: “Hittin’ a Koufax fastball,” says Willie Stargell “was like tryin’ to drink coffee with a fork.”

As this teammate presents the life story of the prince of baseball players, readers learn that Koufax dominated pitching in Major League Baseball for six years. Koufax, who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn, first became a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers and a teammate of Jackie Robinson. As one of the few Jewish ballplayers at the time, Koufax, like Robinson, knew what it meant to be in a minority player and stand up to the personal slurs and attacks thrown at him. After the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, Koufax had such a rough time it looked like his career might be over. Readers walk with him through his despair, his doubt, and thoughts of quitting baseball. But like all good storytellers the narrator quickly moves to his moment of triumph as Koufax finds his pitching groove and begins to strike out one batter after another—becoming a human strikeout machine.

And, of course, the narrator recounts the detail for which Koufax became even more famous—sitting out the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Day. At age thirty, at the peak of his career, Koufax, left the game because of debilitating arthritis. “Who was Sandy Koufax? Sandy Koufax was a guy who finally relaxed enough to let his body do the one thing it was put on this earth to do. And what a thing of beauty that was.”

Not only is Winter’s text spirited and lively, but Andre Carrilho’s animated artwork is filled with movement. In illustrations on every page Koufax looks like the Greek god of baseball, just as his teammate claims. Both text and art combine in this picture information book to bring this hero of the past vividly alive to young readers. Once they finish the book, they will definitely have heard of Sandy Koufax—who today celebrates his seventy-sixth birthday.

Here’s a page from You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!:


Originally posted December 30, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Baseball, Jewish, Multicultural, Sports
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!


  1. Cathy says:

    Just wanted you to know, Anita, that I’ve included your blog in my year-end thank-you post to the bloggers, web sites, publishers and other resources I admire and consult regularly in connection with my own blog, Bookmaking With Kids. You’ll find the post here. Many, many thanks for your excellent work!

  2. Judith Plum says:

    Thanks Cathy! I first found this wonderful website through a link on your terrific blog. I read both regularly. I teach elementary reading and both sites add so much to my instruction. Happy New Year and happy reading!

  3. Anita says:

    Cathy: Thanks for the support and kind comments. May 2014 be filled with great books for you.

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