Investigating Beyond the Book with Fiction and Facts by David A. Kelly
Did you hear about the first major league baseball team to hire a group of dogs?
One of the great things about writing the Ballpark Mysteries chapter book series is that I get to visit, and research, baseball stadiums and teams. Heck, I even get to expense my hot dogs and pretzels (and perhaps a beverage)!
But one of the tough things about writing the Ballpark Mysteries is all the stuff left on the cutting room floor. All the crazy facts, information, and history that I learn and am not able to use or not able to explore fully. Like all the details on the baseball dogs.
The Ballpark Mysteries are mysteries set in major league baseball stadiums. They mix fact and fiction and provide different ways for less motivated readers to connect with the stories. So far, I’ve covered sixteen out of the thirty stadiums (with more on the way), and have four Super Specials that take place in unique locations such as the Hall of Fame or at the World Series.
And since most of the teams, stadiums, and cities featured in the books have been around for decades or even a century or more, there’s lots of interesting history, facts, and legends. Over the years, through school visits, virtual school visits, and fan mail, I’ve seen how those facts, history, and non-fiction settings in the books provide compelling hooks that connect with reluctant readers.
In fact, I’ve seen how the Ballpark Mysteries support interest-based learning through sports, geography, history, travel, and mysteries to help engage readers who otherwise might not be interested in reading. They also provide a wide range of ways to expand learning and conversations beyond the mystery plot that drives the story action.
My mystery set at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, (The World Series Kids) features kids sledding down a huge, grassy hill on sleds made of cardboard. It’s not only fun to watch videos of kids sledding on cardboard, but it can be a great jumping off point to discussing the concepts of friction and speed. å
My mystery set in Denver, at the Colorado Rockies stadium, features a mystery involving dinosaurs. I don’t know many baseball teams that have discovered the fossilized remains of a dinosaur under their dugout, but the Rockies did! Okay, it was just a small rib bone, but it was probably from a Triceratops, hence the origin of the Rockies’ big purple dinosaur mascot, Dinger. And while I used that information in The Colorado Curveball, it’s a great jumping off point for readers or educators to learn more about types of dinosaurs or how and where to find fossils.
And for kids who aren’t wowed by dinosaurs, readers can dig into the strange science resulting from the fact that the Rockies stadium is one mile above sea level. Believe it or not, that makes baseballs fly farther than in any of the other major league stadiums. Interested readers can investigate the physics to learn more about why that might be happening. It also shows up prominently in a special feature of the Rockies’ stadium—a row of purple seats around the top of the stadium.
As a writer, I love learning about all these interesting facts and connections. I always explore how I might tie them into my stories, but they don’t always fully make it into the books. That’s why I’ve recently started to create a series of videos to extend the stories and engage my readers to learn more about the interesting history, facts, science, and situations related tåo the teams, stadiums, and cities in my Ballpark Mysteries books.
My new Ballpark Mysteries One-Minute Mysteries are short videos that explore an interesting bit of science, history, or some other angle related to locations of my books. They allow me to use all that information I discover while researching my books in a way that engages readers to investigate beyond the book.
That’s where the baseball dogs come in.
In 2000, the San Francisco Giants had a super-secret project to help generate some excitement at their brand-new stadium near San Francisco Bay. Six Portuguese water dogs were enlisted and specially trained to do something that no other baseball team had ever tried. And to make the project even a bit weirder, the concept was created and championed by none other than Don Novello, who appeared as Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live for many years.
Watch my San Francisco Giants One-Minute Mystery to learn more. Or view the one on the purple seats in the Colorado Rockies’ stadium. And then share them with kids and encourage them to learn more, perhaps about breeds of dogs that love water, or how altitude can affect things like baseballs.
David A. Kelly is the author of the Ballpark Mysteries and MVP series of chapter books from Random House. Visit www.davidakellybooks.com for more information on either his free or paid virtual author visits.