Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball’s Negro Leagues, written by Leah Henderson and illustrated by George Doutsiopoulos, is a wonderful biography of a fascinating character, but that’s not all. Henderson subtly explores the race and gender context that both enables and constrains Mamie’s professional baseball career.
Mamie was the first woman pitcher in professional baseball.
Henderson shows readers what it was like to be a young Black girl with a lot of talent and passion for a game dominated by white men. While growing up, Mamie must work extra hard to prove she has the skills to compete with boys while having little reason to believe her hard work will lead to a career. That is until Jackie Robinson’s barrier-breaking success in Major League Baseball inspires her. Mamie began to believe that if Jackie Robinson could break race barriers, she could break gender barriers.
Interestingly, racism kept Mamie from playing on the all-white All-American Girls Professional Baseball League where white women competed between 1943 and 1954. Even though racism kept any Black women from signing a contract with the AAGPBL, more Black men were succeeding in Major League Baseball in the period. A shortage of male talent prompted the Negro Leagues to reach out to talented Black women. This was the landscape Mamie navigated to build her career and play the game she loved.
Doutsiopoulos’s crisp slightly-cartoonish images invite young readers into Mamie’s world and Henderson’s telling of it is engaging as well as informative without being overwhelming.
I enjoyed the book a lot. Young readers won’t get all the nuance, but they will be able to get the gist of it. Older readers will have a lot to discuss. This is a rare find that is appropriate for all elementary age readers and I recommend it for school and public libraries. Wonderful read!