On September 9 in the United States, the teams comprising Major League Baseball observed Roberto Clemente Day, honoring the life of the renowned athlete and humanitarian. Born in Puerto Rico, Clemente remains a national hero to Boricuas both on the island and in the Diaspora. In his dedication to excellence in his work, his pride in being Puerto Rican, and his commitment to social justice, he represents the very best of us.
Readers interested in Kid Lit titles about Roberto Clemente should definitely take a look at Clemente!, written by Wille Perdomo and illustrated by Bryan Collier. This #ownvoices title deserves inclusion in any school or public library collection.
Author Willie Perdomo is a poet by trade, and this is readily apparent in the rhyming text of the book. Its rhythm like spoken word, this book deserves a spirited read-aloud. As the book opens, the protagonist, named Clemente by his father (the “president of the GREATEST FANS OF ROBERTO CLEMENTE CLUB/Boogie-down Bronx chapter”) is asking just why he was given that name.
Here the book moves from a window into a tight-knit Puerto Rican family living in the Bronx into a biography of the singular baseball player. Born on August 18, 1934, in Barrio San Anton in the town of Carolina, Roberto Clemente amassed impressive stats during this career:
“4 batting titles,
.317 lifetime average,
came to bat 9,454 times,
got 3,00 hits,
240 home runs,
12 Golden Gloves…
…and a statue
in the Hall of Fame-
Roberto Clemente was indeed “born to play the game.”
But as the narrator’s mother reminds him, Clemente never forgot who he was and from whence he came. In an interview following the Pittsburgh Pirates’ victory in the 1971 World Series, Clemente addressed his parents and family in Puerto Rico, speaking in Spanish, asking for their blessing.
On December 31, 1972, Roberto Clemente would board what would be his final flight, a post-earthquake relief mission to Nicaragua. The plane was overloaded with supplies, and crashed shortly after takeoff. The whole island mourned for their fallen hero. But because Clemente did not give up, did not back down, and always stood for what he believed in, his name is known all over the world. And that’s why, the protagonist’s mom tells him, “we named you Clemente.”
Baseball fans of any age, and specifically fans of Roberto Clemente, would appreciate this book. If you are looking for picture books about prominent Puerto Ricans, this is one to include in your library. This title would also fit into a classroom lesson or storytime about names: who we are named after, how our names are correctly pronounced, and their cultural significances.
If you are looking for a Roberto Clemente title for teen readers, be sure to check out the graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. I admittedly have not read it, but it is on my “to-read” list. Clemente!, however, I have long been familiar with, as it is one of the books I have given my oldest nephew so that he may know about this Puerto Rican hero.
Written by Willie Perdomo: Illustrated by Bryan Collier
2010, Henry Holt & Company, an imprint of Macmillan
Awards: 2011 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.