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the baseball player and the walrus + ben loory interview
The Baseball Player and the Walrus by Ben Loory, illustrated by the hugely talented, Alex Latimer (2015).
This is an unusual picture book and not just in the usual ways. It’s more of a modern-day fable. And the tone and voice are all their own. It feels almost like a story that actually happened.
There’s a ballplayer. And something’s missing from his life. And he finds it in a walrus at the zoo. That walrus becomes his companion, and he cares for the walrus in all the ways one cares for a walrus. And he becomes his friend.
And when hard times hit, the ballplayer still makes it his goal to be reunited with the walrus.
It seems to me he may have once cared about baseball the way he cares about the walrus. Or maybe he never did. Either way, at this point in his life, he’s looking for something more than baseball and this walrus is it. I find it interesting that he ends up sharing baseball with the walrus in the end though, a pure kind of baseball where they play catch and hit homeruns together, just the two of them in the backyard.
In reading reviews on Goodreads, it’s clear people connect to this book. They see the walrus as their passion, the thing they wish they could do but they can’t because they have this other job playing baseball. Or something like that. I think it was pretty brilliant to choose a baseball player since that seems on the surface like a dream passion kind of thing and taking care of a walrus more like a semi-regular gig. But that’s Ben Loory for you!
Big thanks to Penguin Young Readers for images!
Ben Loory has been on my radar for a few years and I was delighted to see he’d made a foray into picture books.
You may have read his collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. Or you may want to now. You may also have heard one of his stories read on This American Life. Or you could listen now.
And he was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for This Picture Book Life!
TPBL: How did the idea to write a picture book come about and was the story THE BASEBALL PLAYER AND THE WALRUS initially written for children or adults?
Ben Loory: I never write stories for anyone in particular; I just take the first line that comes to mind and follow the story to the end— then when it’s done, I try to find a way to publish it. The idea of doing one as a picture book came from my friend, the writer Cecil Castellucci, who mentioned it at the book launch for my collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. The Baseball and the Walrus story seemed like a likely candidate, so my agent went out with that, and three years later, here we are!
TPBL: Did anything change about your writing in knowing it would be illustrated? Did you learn anything from writing an illustrated story?
BL: I wrote the story before I knew it would be illustrated, so no. I did take out a line where the baseball player was sued for breach of contract; apparently kids aren’t interested in legal disputes?? Otherwise, it remained as originally written. The main thing I learned from the whole experience is that Alex Latimer is a genius. My stories are a strange mix of goofiness and existential loneliness and his illustrations brought that out perfectly.
TPBL: What were your favorite picture books as a child?
BL: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (the best book ever written), Robin and the Pirates, and The Great Alphabet Race (which I still dream about to this day). Also I was (and am) heavily into the George & Martha books, and, of course, Richard Scarry.
TPBL: Baseball fan? Walrus fan?
BL: I was a huge Mets fan when I was growing up, until they traded Ray Knight after winning the World Series in 1986. The same World Series in which he was named the MVP. Still can’t believe they did that. Unconscionable. As for walruses—they’re the best! Except maybe for chameleons (who get to wear the little mittens).