Becoming Joe DiMaggio

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Becoming Joe DiMaggio Book Poster Image
Poems about growing up during WWII.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Violence & Scariness

Italian-Americans are referred to as dagoes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that some background on DiMaggio and the period will help kids get more out of this. Written in free verse, it will appeal to reluctant readers because it's short, but it's literary and packs a lot of meaning, emotion, and ideas into few words.

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What's the story?

Joseph Paul is named after Joltin' Joe by his grandfather, Papa Angelo, with whom he spends his time listening to ball games on the radio. His father is in jail, and his mother has trouble making ends meet. Then World War II starts, his father comes home, and DiMaggio goes to war. But through the years, dreaming of becoming a ball player or a doctor, he yearns to make his grandfather's \"broken heart soar.\"

Is it any good?

Based on stories of the author's family, the book, written as 24 short, free-verse poems, weaves a delicate spell of humor, nostalgia, and sadness. In doing so, he somehow captures two lives -- Joseph's and his grandfather's. It's astounding how much is hinted at and filled in in the reader's mind: the grandfather's difficult immigrant life and hopes for his son and then his grandson, the violent father's brushes with the law, the mother's trials in raising the family with and without him, the giftedness of the grandson, on whom the family's hopes are pinned, the career of DiMaggio and his importance to immigrant families.

This book is like a magic bag that holds so much more than physics allows. Your child may be surprised that in discussion it takes far longer to unpack all the layers of meaning and content than it did to read the book. That's the power of poetry.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how poetry can convey so much in such short space. How do you think this book would be different if it were a short story or a novel?

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