TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME. By Carly Simon (performer, author), Jack Norworth (author) and Amiko Hirao (illustrator). Imagine, a Charlesbridge Imprint. April 2011. 26 pages, hardcover. $17.95.


Imagine a 1908 Tin Pan Alley ditty that continues to be heard by tens of millions of Americans on a daily basis — at least during baseball season. Yes, the incredibly catchy Take Me Out to the Ballgame (by Jack Norworth), is the unofficial baseball anthem, and it gets the crowds roaring to the immortal lyrics:

“Take me out to the ballgame / Take me out with the crowds / Buy some peanuts and crackerjacks / I don’t care if I never get back / For it’s root, root, root for the home team / If they don’t win it’s a shame / For it’s one / two / three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.”

You didn’t read that, right? You sang it!

Now a new children’s book, illustrated by Amiko Hirao, with a three-song CD by Carly Simon, has been released by Imagine Publishing. But there’s a bit of back-story: When some years ago, Ken Burns produced his prodigious multi-volume documentary, Baseball, he asked Carly Simon to perform the grand old song for the main musical leitmotif. Who better to put across the rousing hymn than Ms. Simon with her throaty, turbo-charged voice?

But, hang on, there’s a still earlier back-story: In the mid-1950s, super baseball champ Jackie Robinson, his wife and three children, lived in Carly Simon’s family home in a leafy Stamford, Conn., suburb. Carly’s parents (dad was Richard Simon, cofounder of Simon & Schuster publishing) worked to integrate the all-white community by persuading neighbors to welcome the Robinsons. The two families lived together as the baseball player’s house was being built down the street.

Carly retains happy memories of accompanying the ballplayer to his games where he and his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates considered her their “lucky charm” and their “mascot.”

So now to the book: The drawings are big, overblown in a fun way, exciting; there’s a frenetic action to each scene; no one sits still. Young Katie Casey is a little girl-kitty baseball fan with fat cheeks and a determined stare in her wide-set blue eyes. Her guy friend (termed her “beau” — good word for today’s kids to learn, though a few of them would have heard it from their great-grandmamas) is a white, gullible English setter who invites Katie Casey to the movies. And, of course, what does she say? “Take me out to the ball game!”

With a turn of the page, we’re at Sluggers Stadium, where hot dogs and good old roasted peanuts are on offer. In following tableaux, we see a pitching giraffe whose neck stretches nearly to home plate. A catching flamingo is lost behind a batting hippo, but still an umpire rabbit rears up high enough to make the call.

Zebras clash with rhinos, an at-bat crocodile looks like, should he strike out, he might munch the whole infield. Meanwhile we see a root-root-rooting Katie Casey in nearly every scene. At last her team has won and she’s carried across the field on the giraffe pitcher’s shoulder.

As a former bookseller, I’ve long noticed that publishers of children’s books customarily neglect to state on the dust jacket —– or anywhere else — the target age of the readership. Of course, you can make an educated guess, but it would help for parents and grandparents (the latter group the largest buyers of kids’ books) to be certain their purchases land in the right laps. Take Me Out to the Ballgame could start with one-and-a-half-year-olds, just for the opportunity of sharing the song with them, and getting them started down the road of identifying animals — this book provides a virtual zoo, and a highly lovable zoo at that.

On the CD, Carly Simon jumps in with Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Nothing fancy, she simply sings the words with gusto; fussing around with this song would be like trying to remake the good old American brownie. The second tune, the old English ballad made famous on this continent in the late 1960s by Simon and Garfunkel, Scarborough Fair, is enunciated by Ms. Simon in a manner that allows us to dwell on the words as much as the haunting melody (for Simon and Garfunkel the opposite held true). “Ask him to buy me an acre of land/ Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme / Between the sea foam and over the sand / Then he’ll be a true love of mine.”

For the third and final number, Ms. Simon performs another traditional ballad, I Gave My Love a Cherry, a tune that provides a beguiling riddle: The cherry has no stone, a chicken has no bone, a story has no end, a baby has no cryin’. If there’s any mistake that this is a lullaby, the singer adds a few soothing “hush little babys” at the end, insuring that this book and CD will be the last entertainment read and played on any given night.