Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh

By The Horn Book

“Don’t let it stop you, honey. Don’t you let nothing stop you. Promise me.” In World War II California, women like protagonist Maria’s beloved auntie, Tía Manuela, are working in factories, and in elementary schools girls are breaking barriers by playing team sports. Maria’s teacher urges her female students to join a new softball team, a game Maria adores, but which means convincing Mamá and Papi to let her wear shorts and run around on a ball field. While Maria enjoys her newfound empowerment, her parents struggle to make ends meet as sharecroppers. The owner is selling his property, but Maria’s Sikh father cannot buy the lease on the land he farms because as an immigrant from India, he is barred from owning land in California. (By marrying him, her Mexican mother also gave up that right.) In a community of biracial children from similar mixed marriages, Maria and her friends strive to help their parents and themselves, speaking out at a public meeting to urge the county to build them a ballfield and learning to fight discrimination from Anglos, kids and adults alike. In clean, nuanced prose, Krishnaswami has created a heroine with whom many children will identify, whatever their backgrounds and interests. This feminist book doesn’t shy away from the political (“They knew how democracy worked, how some people were allowed to be a part of it and others were not”) and will pair well with other middle-grade historical novels about the struggle for civil rights.