The Rhino in Right Field by Stacy DeKeyser
Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 1
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Nick wants to change his life. For twelve years, he’s done what his hard-working, immigrant parents want him to do. Now he’s looking for his own American dream and he thinks he’s found it. The local baseball team is having a batboy contest, and Nick wants to win.
But the contest is on a Saturday—the day Nick has to work in his father’s shop. There’s one other tiny—well, not so tiny—problem. A 2,000-pound rhinoceros named Tank. Nick and his friends play ball in the city zoo—and Tank lives just beyond the right field fence. Nick’s experience getting the ball out of Tank’s pen has left him frozen with fear whenever a fly ball comes his way. How’s a lousy fielder going to win the contest?
Nick practices every day with his best friend, Ace, and a new girl who has an impressive throwing arm! But that’s not enough—to get to the contest, Nick has to lie to his parents and blackmail his uncle. All while dodging the school bully, who’s determined to win even by playing dirty. Nick will need to keep his eye on the ball in this fast, funny story about a game that can throw you some curveballs—just like life!
What a fun book! I think kids are really going to enjoy it, though struggling readers and English Language Learners may be confused by the antique slang.
The Rhino in Right Field is a great mix of a lot of middle grade sub-genres: it’s a sports book, a friendship story, historical fiction, and is pretty funny too. I like that this book was able to handle series themes like immigration and bullying, but without ever feeling anything other than fun. More positive themes of friendship, working hard, and family pull the whole thing together with a warm, fuzzy bow.
The time period (the late 40s????) made for a fun, unique setting that I think kids are going to find interesting, and it’s executed with enough details that they just might learn something too. I wish DeKeyser could have brought some nuance to the poor zookeeping practices of the time, as some children might not realize that such practices were inhumane. But overall I thought she did a good job presenting “the good ole’ days” with nostalgia without being perfect.
The main character, Nick, is a Greek-American, born to immigrant parents. I don’t know that DeKeyser is an immigrant herself, so I can’t speak to the authenticity of her portrayal. It reflected other stories I’ve seen, but might be a tad stereotypical. I couldn’t find any reviews by Greek-American readers, would be interested to read what they have to say.
Overall, a good, fun read. The Sandlot meets My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a subplot of A League of their Own thrown in for good measure. Definitely recommend for middle grade readers.