Title: A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson
Author: Michelle Y. Green
Publisher: New York: Scholastic, 2002.
Genre: Middle Grade biography
Audience Age: 10 to 14
Themes/Topics: Girls in baseball, African Americans in baseball, segregation, overcoming
Opening Sentences: Mama never mentioned it, but I’m sure I musta been born with a baseball in my hand, its smooth white skin curving into my tiny brown palm.
Synopsis: Young, small, Mamie Johnson – just a peanut of a girl – loved the game of baseball. She especially loved pitching. She had two strikes against her in her quest to play, however: she was female, and she was African American. She was born in 1935, Until she was ten, she played baseball with other girls, and she excelled.
When she moved to New Jersey at the age of ten, however, there was no baseball for girls, and the boys’ team was all white. That would have stopped a lot of girls, but not Mamie. She knew what she wanted. She didn’t want to play softball. She wasn’t stopped the barrier of race. She signed up for the boys’ team, and proved her worth over and over.
It was a fight she was to face many times in her early years as she strove toward her goal of playing professional ball. Her determination – and her impressive skill with a baseball – finally earned her a place as the first woman to play in the professional Negro League in the early 1950s, when she was still a teenager.
Reading A Strong Right Arm, one feels as though Mamie is sitting across the kitchen table from you, telling her story. Her voice is evident in every word. The reader feels the pain of her struggle, the joy she found in the game, and the quiet pride she felt when she won through and became a professional baseball player. Kudos to author Michelle Y. Green, who breathed Mamie’s life into every word on each page.
This story will inspire anyone to follow their dreams with spirit and determination. I highly recommend it.
For Further Enrichment:
The African American Registry has a brief article about Mamie. This is a great resource for African American history.
There are interviews with Mamie and further resources on NPR’s website.
Here’s the Kirkus Review of this excellent book.
For more about author Michelle Y. Green, see my post about her current Tuskegee Airmen Legacy Project.