Anything baseball fascinates Isaac. He doesn't play many video games, but for Father's Day we bought Matt an old GameCube game, "Mario Baseball." Isaac clobbered Matt the first time they played it. It is even a game that I can tolerate playing, and Isaac has requested it a couple of afternoons a week this summer. I have to say that I have gotten pretty good.
Knowing his fascination with the game, I picked up The Jungle Baseball Game by Tom Paxton at the library on our last visit. It is based on Paxton's song, "The Monkeys' Baseball Game." The basic plot of the book revolves around a challenge the hippo team gives to the monkey team to play a game of baseball. The monkeys think they will win easily, and at first the game goes their way. But then the hippos dig in their heels and give it all they have and are victorious at the end. The monkeys are left shaking their heads wondering what happened.
This is a classic story of the underdogs triumphing over the champions. Normally, I am a sucker for this type of story. This book is fun to read, and if I could still read music I may even try to sing the song that is included on the end pages. But I am not sure I like the way it portrays the champions or the ultimate winners. The monkeys are stereotypically cocky as the game begins, assured that they would win. At the end, the hippos rejoice and throw their victory in the monkeys faces.
I like stories that celebrate the triumph of will and effort over talent and natural ability. I want to teach Isaac that even if he is not naturally athletic or good at something the first time, he should continue to practice and try his hardest to succeed. I also want to teach him that success is not always the same as winning. I do not want to teach him that being naturally good at something makes him better than someone else or that coming out on top, even against the odds, gives him the right to be ungracious to a competitor.
I am probably being overly sensitive about the message in this book. The author probably didn't even mean for there to be a message, he just wrote a fun song that he turned into a fun book. But Isaac is reaching the age that winning is beginning to have meaning for him, and sometimes he is not a gracious winner. And he is always a sore loser. He is also getting more involved in sports as we continue with t-ball and have started Tae Kwon Do. I want to make sure that the images he sees of competitors, winners or losers, are positive ones that he should emulate.
Our current round of library books will go back next week, and Isaac will probably ask to read The Jungle Baseball Game again at least once. When we read it, I will be sure to include some conversation about what the characters did that was good and what they did that they should change. Then I may try to sing the song.