The Journal of Biddy Owens Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Walter Dean Myers is one of the most celebrated writers of literature for children and young adults. He has won both the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Outstanding Literature for Young Adults and the ALAN Award for his entire body of work. In addition, he is the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award which honors the highest literary achievement in books for young adults.
For his third book in the My Name Is America series, Myers offers readers behind the plate seats at games played by Negro League teams in the United States during 1948. The Journal of Biddy Owens is much more than a sports story though. Biddy's love of life and passion for baseball is juxtaposed against sadness and anger as he and his team members face racism and discrimination at almost every turn.
The Negro Leagues developed as a result of segregation practices in the major leagues. The unspoken rule banning black players was finally broken when Jackie Robinson was hired to play with the Dodgers' farm club in 1945. Throughout the pages of Biddy's journal walk some of the greatest players in the Negro Leagues and ultimately in all of American baseball, from Satchel Paige to Willie Mays.
The Journal of Biddy Owens chronicles a young man's love for America's favorite game and his life on the road and on the baseball fields playing in the Negro Leagues. It is a sometimes sad but inspiring story of segregation in the United States and one adolescent's determination to question it, act against it, and dream beyond it.
Biddy Owens, seventeen-year-old "equipment manager, scorekeeper, errand boy, and sometimes right fielder" for the Birmingham Black Barons, dreams of becoming a major league baseball player. But it's 1948, and most black ballplayers must be content playing for the Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers has just recently integrated baseball, but the white owners are reluctant to add too many blacks to their rosters. Along with scouting for athletic ability, the owners appear to be looking for "players who act a certain way," and won't react when insulted or taunted by white fans.
Biddy lives with his parents, sister Rachel, and Aunt Jack in Birmingham, but he spends much of his time on the road with the team as they play many exhibition games: That's where the money is. As they travel through Southern cities, the Barons are forced to use restrooms and drinking fountains marked "Colored Only," and they're barred from white stores, restaurants, and hotels. When they go to northern cities, like Chicago and New York, however, they are allowed into white establishments and there appears to be little or no discrimination.
Biddy sometimes gets a chance to play a few innings of a game, but his batting is terrible, and he begins to realize he's not good enough to play baseball in the Negro League. The season winds down with the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro League World Series against the Homestead Grays. Losing the first three games, they rally and win the fourth game. Though they play "like champions" in the next game, they lose it and the series. After talking with his family about his future, Biddy decides to go to college in the fall. He says, "I wasn't going to give baseball up, just the dream of being a professional. I would always root for the Black Barons, and love watching and being around them."
Thinking About the Book
- Why did the Negro Leagues exist in 1948?
- Biddy's journal is filled with examples of discrimination and prejudice. What incident do you remember most clearly? Why?
- Walter Dean Myers, the author of The Journal of Biddy Owens, describes Biddy as a young man everyone seems to like. What are the personal qualities Biddy has that makes him so likeable?
- What order did President Truman issue in July of 1948? What did this mean to Black Americans?
- If you had to choose one thing, besides baseball, that Biddy Owens thinks about most, what would it be? Explain.
- Jackie Robinson and a few other Negro League players had been integrated into major league baseball before 1948. What does Biddy mean when he writes, on May 8th, "It seems to me that what the major leagues are looking for are players who act in a certain way."
- On August 8th Biddy writes, "I love this game, but it don't love me." Explain what Biddy means.
- Why did the Negro Leagues eventually disappear?
- In your discussion groups consider the following question: Why do you think the author does not have Biddy develop into a successful professional baseball player?
- Identify the terms below and their importance in The Journal of Biddy Owens.
Jim Crow car
Ku Klux Klan
- Find out more about the Negro Leagues and share the new information with your discussion group. Consider Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball League by Patricia McKissack. To learn more go to the Negro League Baseball Web site. Read about the Birmingham Black Barons and Cool Papa Bell, one of the players Biddy mentions in his journal.
- Join with the other members of your group and make a list of incidents where Biddy and his fellow teammates experience prejudice and discrimination. Are any of the examples on your list still around today? Explain.
- Biddy's journal is filled with examples of just how much he loves the game of baseball. If you were to write a journal about the sport or hobby you enjoy most, what would be the subject of that journal? What is it about the sport or hobby that makes you love it so much?
- When the Barons go to Mobile, Alabama, Biddy meets a fourteen-year-old batboy named Hank Aaron. Biddy says of Aaron, "He's right-handed but he held the bat with his left hand on top of his right hand. I told him he'd probably break his wrist that way, but he kept on doing it. Not too bright." Look at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site to see what became of this former batboy.
- According to Biddy's story, the game of baseball was played during the Civil War and even before. Find out how and where the game of baseball began.
- Read The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier , also by Walter Dean Myers. What instances of prejudice or discrimination do you find? How are Biddy and Scott alike? How are they different?
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Houston, Texas.