Picture Books and Primary Sources: Waiting for Pumpsie by Barry Wittenstein

Waiting for Pumpsie

Waiting for Pumpsie

Primary sources can give students an opportunity to explore an event or individual over time. A historically based picture book can reveal a lesser known event or individual from history. Paired together, the two can lead to engaging learning for students. One example of this type of learning includes the picture book Waiting for Pumpsie written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by London Ladd.

Wittenstein’s book explores the story of Pumpsie Green, the first African American baseball player for the Red Sox. The Boston team was the last Major League Baseball team to integrate. Pumpsie’s debut in 1959, more than twelve years after Jackie Robinson, gives the reader an understanding that the movement for integration is a long one.

Using a Picture Book to Gain a Sense of Time

Students may have limited knowledge of the integration of Major League Baseball beyond Jackie Robinson being the first African American player. Ask students to give a careful read of Waiting for Pumpsie, paying close attention to the text and illustrations. Encourage them to look for evidence of when the story takes place.

Students may find two illustrations depicting time. The first page shows a young boy looking at baseball guides and schedules with the year 1959 on them. Later in the story, baseball tickets are illustrated with the date August 4, 1959.

As students point out these observations, ask them to closely examine the text historically. Ask them:

  • What was happening at the time of the story?
  • What had already happened?
  • What had not happened yet?

Giving evidence from the text along with their own contextual knowledge can help set the story in a time and place. If students struggle with this ask them to focus their attention on events around integration. Reading or listening to the text with a historical mindset can be an analysis strategy that can be used across other secondary source text as well.

Using Primary Sources to Explore Beyond an Event

Arizona Tribune., August 07, 1959

Arizona Tribune., August 07, 1959

With an understanding of Pumpsie Green’s entry into Major League Baseball and its significance, encourage students to explore more about Pumpsie Green’s baseball career. Searching Chronicling America reveals a limited number of stories about Pumpsie Green. Students can look through the lens of integration while reading the articles.  

  • What moments of integration are reported at other moments in Pumpsie’s life and career?
  • When does integration happen at different moments in Major League Baseball and with the Boston Red Sox? How do you know?
  • How is Pumpsie’s life impacted by the integration of Major League Baseball?

If time does not allow to search independently, provide them with a curated group of primary sources related to Pumpsie Green and his entry into Major League Baseball.

Students may realize that stories about Pumpsie Green appear in a limited number of newspapers at the time. Selecting to learn more about the newspaper in Chronicling America will show that newspapers like the Arizona Sun and the Detroit Tribune served African American communities. It is worth noting that the availability of these resources gives us perspectives that are not represented across most newspapers from the time period making them a valuable asset when exploring history.


Author: Tom Bober

Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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