Children’s Fiction of 2008: Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park

Keeping Score is a children’s novel about baseball and prayer. About baseball fans and prayer. It’s a new genre: theological sports fan-fiction.

Maggie-o is named after Joe DiMaggio, her dad’s favorite Yankee baseball player, but Maggie’s love is reserved for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Dem Bums. They’re one of three New York teams in 1953 when this story is set, and they’re the team that breaks its fans hearts every year by not winning the World Series, never, not even once. Maggie is the Dodgers’ most loyal fan, and as she listens to the Dodgers’ games on the radio, she begins to bargain with God for victory for her team. Then the bargaining and the praying get mixed up with scoring the games and superstition and her friend Jim in who’s fighting in Korea, and it all becomes a confusing, emotional, growing up roller coaster of wins and losses and dashed hopes and renewed hope and lots and lots of baseball.

I’m not a baseball fan. I’m not a sports fan. Sometimes while I was reading this book, I wanted to shake Maggie and tell her, “Baseball is not the center of the world! Don’t live and die according to fortunes and misfortunes of the Dodgers!” But I know that some people really, really invest their emotions, hopes, and dreams in the win/loss record of a particular sports team. I think it’s crazy, but I’ve seen it too many times to not believe in Maggie-O’s particular obsession with the Dodgers.

And I liked Maggie. I liked the way she and her brother Joey-Mick argued over whether or not they could both have Jackie Robinson for a favorite player. I liked her ruminations over prayer and which prayers God would accept and answer and which He would not. They seemed a bit childish to me, but of course, Maggie is a child. Then I suddenly realized that we adults do exactly the same thing. Will God heal my child if I ask Him? What if I have a really good reason to ask? Something unselfish? What if I sacrifice something I love so that God will heal my loved one? What if I pray for the hurricane to go somewhere else, not to save my house, but to save someone else’s? Will God say yes to that prayer? Does prayer “work”? If so, how? Why does God seem to answer some prayers and not others?

Maggie comes to some profound conclusions about prayer and about baseball toward the end of the story, but I don’t want to tell you what those are and spoil the ending. Suffice it to say that I think this book would fit quite well in any Catholic or Protestant school or church library and into the public school and the public library, and that’s quite a feat. It’s ambiguous enough for the secularists, and respectful and engaging with the Christian faith in particular.

Oh, and did I say, it’s got a lot of baseball??

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