4th Grade and Up
Nick wants to change his life. For twelve years, he’s done what his hard-working immigrant parents want him to do. Now, he’s looking for his own American dream, and he thinks he’s found it. The local baseball team is having a batboy contest, and Nick wants to win.
But the contest is on a Saturday, the day Nick has to work in his father’s shop. There’s one other tiny problem. A 2,580-pound rhinoceros named Tank. Nick and his friends play ball in the city zoo—and Tank lives just beyond the right field fence. Nick’s experience getting the ball out of Tank’s pen has left him frozen with fear whenever a fly ball comes his way. How’s a lousy fielder going to win the contest?
Nick practices every day with his best friend, Ace, and a new girl, Penny, who has an impressive throwing arm. But that’s not enough—to get to the contest, Nick has to lie to his parents and blackmail his uncle. All while dodging the school bully, who’s determined to win even by playing dirty.
The first thing that caught my attention was the title. The Rhino in Right Field. What? Is this story going to take place somewhere in Africa, and the kids are playing baseball with wild rhinos roaming around? Then I read the summary above and thought: Wait? Are these kids playing baseball in a zoo? How is that allowed?! It turns out this story takes place in Wisconsin in 1948, where Washington Park Zoo is right next to the park where the kids play baseball.
Tank, the rhino in this story, is an African Hook-lipped Rhinoceros, a.k.a. a Black Rhinoceros. With a keen sense of hearing and smell, they are likely to charge anything they see as a threat. But black rhinos can’t see well, so they sometimes charge objects like trees and rocks, mistaking them as a threat. And with a top running speed of 34 MPH, you do not want to be in an enclosed space with a black rhino. I have no idea why these kids would risk their lives jumping into a rhino pen to retrieve a baseball. Sidenote: A baseball back in 1948 cost 98 cents. That’s like $20 in our time.
One of the many side plots in this story didn’t stand out to me until later: Nick’s uncle and frozen custard. I wondered, “What’s the big deal about frozen custard?” When I finally tasted chocolate frozen custard at Shake Shack, I realized what the big deal was. IT IS DELICIOUS! It’s so thick and creamy and doesn’t melt as fast as ice cream.
As you read this book, remember that this story occurred in 1948. It’s full of outdated slang like swell and spiffy. My favorite phrase was dollars to donuts which means almost certain.
In conclusion, this story is a quick, easy read. I waited a long time to get my hands on this book, and it did not disappoint.
Be sure to read the Author’s Note to find out what inspired Stacy Dekeyser to write this story.
This week’s Weird but True Fact about Rhinos
A group of rhinos is called a crash.