by Sandy Moore
Fred Bowen, Washington Post columnist and author, has learned what really hooks a young reader. “If it’s a book about baseball, they’ll read it,” he says with a smile. He writes the kind of stories kids whiz through, often faster than you can say, “infield fly rule.” But his stories are also about friendship and loyalty, honesty and perseverance.
On May 18th Bowen appeared at the Takoma Park Community Center’s new auditorium to talk about his book Throwing Heat! The author received his first copy of the book from Peachtree Press that day, so it was truly “hot” off the press. He seemed happy to be on home turf, answering questions from his local fans.
One such fan was Zahava “Zavie” Frank, a third grader from Takoma Park. She read Bowen’s new picture book, No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last 400 Season. “It’s a great story, because I love the Red Socks ,” said Zahava. (They are also Bowen’s favorite team). Zavie went on to tell Williams’ story: “I thought it was cool when he was close to breaking the all time record for runs batted in, and people thought he should stop playing. He could endanger his record. But he said if I can’t hit well in the final 2 games of the season, I don’t deserve to win.”
History buff Bowen considers it part of his mission to pass on great true stories to the next generation. At the end of Dugout Rivals, for
example, Bowen shows how professional athletes often compete with someone on their own team, which improves their game. For example, Scottie Pippin helped make Michael Jordan a legend, and Lou Gehrig egged on Babe Ruth.
Children’s author Fred Bowen chats with a young fan, Zahava Frank. Photo by Ellen Daniels
Caroline Ward, a seven-year old and T-ball veteran, was intrigued by the baseball glove Bowen showed them. “He said it was like the glove he had as a kid, which was stolen,” said Caroline. Bowen used that incident in his book The Golden Glove, which Caroline is reading. Said she: “The main character, Jamie, took really good care of his glove, oiling it every night, and SLEEPING with it all winter!”
Since his early retirement last year, Bowen has also written five middle grade sports novels (see the list, below) and the Ted Williams story. Writing that many books in a year is the writer’s equivalent of
a batting .400!
Bowen began his writing life as a movie reviewer. “They paid me to watch over 100 movies a month, ” he reminisced. “What a great job.” But Bowen made a career in the law and raised a family, writing books for kids when he could find the time. He also managed to coach teams his son and daughter were a part of – some 30 in all! Bowen said proudly, “My son Liam was the MVP on Blair’s Varsity Baseball team in 2002, when he was a senior.”
Although Bowen has written often about what’s sometimes called, “the thrill of victory”, his books for kids also demonstrate that losing is not always a bad thing. “When kids ask me how I decide whether one of my (fictional) teams should win or lose, I’m always tempted to say, “Oh lose, of course. Because losing in sports prepares you for other losses in life. I learned much more from my losses.”
Young Zavie, who often plays goalie for the Purple Power soccer team in Takoma knows about losing too. Her team fell to the Blue Team, breaking the Power’s winning streak. “I had to tell myself: it’s okay to lose. It just makes you word harder — and the next time it’ll go better.”
His young fans would do well to follow the simple advice Bowen gave when autographing books: Play Ball! Keep reading.