Ben & Emma’s Big Hit

Written by Gavin Newsom and Ruby Shamir
Illustrated by Alexandra Thompson
40 pages  •  Published 2021 (Philomel Books)
Book cover
Recommended Age Range: 1st grade through 3rd grade.
Publisher's Summary: Ben loves baseball. He loves the lines of the diamond-shaped field and the dome of the pitcher’s mound. What Ben doesn’t like is reading. Ben has dyslexia, which means letters and sounds get jumbled up in his brain, and then the words don’t make sense. But when Ben starts looking at reading like he looks at baseball, he realizes that if he keeps trying, he can overcome any obstacle that comes his way. In this empowering story by California Governor Gavin Newsom, inspired by his own childhood diagnosis of dyslexia, readers will learn that kids with the determination to try (and try again) can do big things.
Book cover

Dr. Annie's Takeaways

Recommended for: This book is a great story, which happens to be co-written by California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, about a boy with dyslexia who loves baseball (loosely based on Newsom’s own experience as a child with dyslexia). It is also a story about having more in common with others than we realize and about never giving up. It’s a wonderful book for kids who think they are the only ones struggling to read (there’s a surprise twist in the story that disproves this), and it celebrates kids’ strengths. The publisher states that the book was written in a font specifically designed to be easier to read for people with dyslexia.
Evidence-Based Practices: Diaphragmatic Breathing, Psychoeducation
Tone: Hopeful, inspiring, emotionally evocative
Story Quality: This is a legitimately well-written story with a sweet plot twist and a fun baseball theme. I really enjoyed this book and its reminder that everyone has strengths and (often hidden) struggles.
Illustrations: Pretty, expressive watercolor and colored pencil illustrations.
Representation: Ben is a White boy with dyslexia (“When he looked at a book, he knew there was a story in it too, but he had a hard time figuring it out because he had dyslexia”). He has a friend, Emma, who is a girl with brown skin and curly black hair, and who also struggles to read. Emma and Ben are stars on the baseball field. Their teacher, Ms. Kim is an Asian woman, and their classmates in their reading group include a boy with light brown skin and brown hair, and a girl who wears a hijab.
Psychological Practices: This book does a lot of great things at once. It reminds kids that everyone struggles with something and that with practice (and some deep breaths!), we can all learn something new. It validates the frustrations that often accompany a learning disability, and it shows how we do not always know what others are going through, and that we might have more in common with each other than we realize. Importantly, this story highlights the kids’ strengths, and it values encouragement and kindness. There is no bullying in this story (as is common in books about learning disabilities), and no one ever makes fun of anyone for struggling.
Concerns: None