The Baseball Crows, by Chris Windsor
[Note: This manuscript was given free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Earlier this week I received a package in the mail from an author who had read one of my harshest reviews  and thought that I could be relied upon to give an honest book review of his manuscript. Being the sort of person who tends to look more for reasons to like a book than dislike a book, I must admit my more negative reviews, which seem to have surprisingly intrigued at least one author, are far more rare than positive reviews. At any rate, I received in my mailbox a book of 110 pages and 58,000 words, and with it came a short letter from the author asking if it was good, horrible, between good and horrible, and if it could and should be fixed if so. I must confess that when reading the beginning of the book, my mind was taken back to my childhood memories of watching The Sandlot with witty children and mysterious animal behavior, and that probably tells you at least most of what a reader would like to know, that in some aspects it seems to be just the sort of book that would attract worthy film treatment for the preteen audience.
In terms of the book’s contents, without giving too much away, the book begins with the mystery of some kleptomaniac crows who keep on stealing baseball caps, leading to misery for a boy who is a little late to practice often and lacks confidence. His younger sister is a sensitive softball pitcher who has to deal with mean girls on opposing teams who taunt her and her teammates with ugly and mocking cheers, and he has some suitably quirky friends and neighbors of the kind that show up well on film. The book itself blends an almost magical love of baseball played by people and animals with some educational interest in civil government, from the mouth of a passionate anti-Communist Soviet-era immigrant who happens to hate crows, and the film spends a lot of time dealing with questions of baseball as well as politics in a way that is non-partisan but is thought-provoking and quite intriguing. The manuscript, as written, contains plenty of room for a sequel, given that there is clearly at least some unfinished business, but it ends in a satisfying point nevertheless with a young man imbued with determination, hard work, and skill in sports and life ready to take on the world as a teenager.
It should be obvious from the foregoing that I think that this book is clearly good. There is witty dialogue, a setup of talking plants and animals that is full of magical realism, convincing and complex characters, including that of the protagonist Casey, and memorable set piece incidents told in a compelling narrative involving sports and political intrigue. Of particular interest to this reader and reviewer is the way that the birds of the story are portrayed as responding thoughtfully to resource and environmental limitations and have to deal with the problem of cliques and ethnocentrism, which is thoughtfully examined here. Of course, the book explores plenty of proverbs as well and their assiduous application by the animal characters of the book, and does a good deal to increase the reader’s respect for the humble crows as well as other animals, and even trees. If it is an environmental message, and that seems fairly likely, it is done with a great deal of subtlety and wit, allowing for our native anthropomorphic tendencies to work in the favor of the plant and animal life that is around us. This is a book for roughly late elementary to middle school aged children that provides something to think about for adults as well as entertainment that would be perfect for film adaptation. Perhaps the most melancholy aspect of the film is the way that the protagonist’s parents are nearly invisible in the book’s proceedings.