written by Willie Perdomo
illustrated by Bryan Collier

Willie Perdomo's Clemente!
Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Book review by Emily Rose Aguiló-Pérez

Ages 6-10

"A Big Heart from a Small Island in the Big Leagues

Winner of the 2011 Américas Award, Clemente! is a beautiful, poetic homage to one of the best and most beloved baseball players of our time, Roberto Clemente.

Born in Puerto Rico, Roberto Clemente became a national hero thanks to his amazing journey as a baseball player and his humanitarian efforts.

Summary - Clemente! by Willie Pedromo

The poem is narrated from the point of view of a boy whose father is the president of "The Greatest Fans of Roberto Clemente Club, Boogie-down Bronx chapter." The boy's name is Clemente, in honor of the late baseball player.

Clemente, the boy, describes what his father and uncle have told him about Roberto Clemente: "Clemente hit curve balls before they dropped. Hit fast balls that made a catcher's mitt pop!" And how no one else had gotten a hit in every game of the World Series.

The boy decides to talk about the baseball player for Hero Day at school. Knowing all the facts and stats about his role model, he narrates Roberto Clemente's story from the day he was born to the day he died.

He had all the numbers memorized:

  • 4 batting titles,
  • .317 lifetime average,
  • came to bat 9454 times,
  • got 3,000 hits,
  • 440 doubles,
  • 166 triples,
  • 240 home runs,
  • 12 Golden Gloves...

In addition to his achievements as a baseball player, the boy talks about Clemente's humility and love for his family. During an interview at the World Series celebration Clemente wanted to, first and foremost, express his love and appreciation to his mother, father, and sons. And he asked to do it in Spanish.

Finally, we learn of Clemente's tragic end in New Years Eve 1972, during a flight to Nicaragua. He was going there to help the victims of an earthquake, but his plane was too heavy and it was lost in the ocean. Review continues.

Review - Clemente! by Willie Pedromo

Willie Perdomo brilliantly weaves biographical facts with poetry, which is not an easy task. The rhyme doesn't feel forced and facts aren't changed for the sake of flow.

Perdomo's text is educational, poetic, and fun. He uses Spanish at the right moments, adding color to the narrative.

He also shows readers the many aspects of Clemente's life:

  • the boy from humble beginnings
  • the Hall of Fame baseball player
  • the father and family man
  • the humanitarian who lost his life trying to help others

This, for me, is what makes the book so beautiful. Perdomo's poetry is able to capture all the wonderful traits of the "Prince of the baseball diamante," a man whose legacy remains alive.

Bryan Collier's artistry perfectly complements Perdomo's words. Mixing watercolors and collage images of Roberto Clemente in action, Colier aimed and achieved to "express the speed, power, impact, and sound he embodied when playing baseball," as he explains in his illustrator note. His artwork brings Clemente's story to life.

In the back, the book includes a timeline of the most important moments in Roberto Clemente's history. 

Readers of all ages, whether fans of baseball or not, will appreciate and enjoy the beautiful work that is Clemente!

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