Perfect Game was a surprise for me. I will admit right from the beginning that I am NOT a huge baseball fan so I was sort of dreading reading this Lovelace nominee. Perfect Game is, certainly about baseball, but it is more than that as well. In the tradition of the best sports-themed stories Perfect Game uses the central theme of baseball to help young readers see the best qualities in themselves and what they can aspire to be.
Isaac is a middle-grade student who is also a talented pitcher for his baseball team. As Perfect Game begins we see Isaac preoccupied with the details of pitching a “perfect game.” For a pitcher in Little League baseball a “perfect game” is 18 strikeouts in a row–no batter ever makes it to a base. Isaac thinks about his ‘perfect game’ possibility almost constantly. When, in the midst of a game that is going well, circumstances intervene to derail his “perfect game,” Isaac loses his cool. He becomes angry and behaves in a hurtful way toward his teammates.
After trying to give Isaac some advice about trying to change his perspective during a game without seeing any results Isaac’s coach invites him to come and help with a Special Olympics Unified Sports Team on the weekend. A Special Olympics Unified Sports Team pairs abled and disabled athletes as they play a variety of sports. When Isaac arrives for his first Sunday helping with basketball he meets Kevin–a Special Olympics athlete. Although he is initially a little shocked by Kevin’s behavior–because it is different from how he, himself, would behave, Isaac comes to see in Kevin that courage and “perfection” might actually look different than he has always imagined them.
Perfect Game could be a great read-aloud in the right classroom. It’s a dynamite bedtime read-aloud together or independently for a young reader who enjoys sports–particularly baseball. The language and plot structure are easily read by advanced 2nd through 4th & 5th grade readers. The concepts of ‘perfection’ and ‘winning’ are examined in an age-appropriate and age-effective manner by a writer with considerable skill in characterization and believable dialogue.