Score: 94+/100 (9.4+ out of 10)
The Gnatural by Mark & Ryan Bryson is a WINNER along with its inspiring lead characters, Roy (a gnat) and Bryce Hopper (a grasshopper). This is a positive, encouraging, and motivational children's book about having dreams and following them despite the numerous obstacles that will inevitably come your way. Furthermore, it's also colorfully illustrated by iNDOS Studio, something we also appreciated.
So, let's get into it!
As mentioned before, the book follows two childhood friends and baseball (“bugsball”) fanatics: Roy and Bryce. Roy is clearly the central protagonist of the story as it's mostly his ups and downs that we follow. One of Roy's defining physical characteristics is his small size, mostly owed to being a gnat. However, his defining personal characteristic is his passion. His passion, moreso even than his talent for pitching, really stands out. He LOVES the sport of bugsball. He thinks about it during class. He plays it during recess. He collects sports memorabilia including collector's cards and posters, covering his walls and decorating his home with them.
This is actually something that almost every child can relate to, even those who aren't particularly interested in sports. Every kid will eventually find something in their life that they're “into.” That could be a sport, or it could be something like painting, jazz music, RPG video games, cartoons, or chess. Every kid (and most adults) will develop some sort of passion and/or adopt a hobby that keeps them interested and excited about life in one way or another.
Although these things may not be math, languages, or sciences, they're still important to one's growth, development, and overall outlook. Being happy and being able to express oneself through one's passion is extremely overrated, especially with young people in schools following rigorous curriculums.
Roy is the embodiment of all of this, someone who has a dream and a vision early in life and does everything he can to achieve it later in life. And, like real life, not everything goes to plan. The road to glory is bumpy and winding, often unpaved.
In one of the most shocking and tragic moments of the book, Roy is badly injured by a bird just as he's on the verge of making the big leagues. He spends months lying in a hospital bed watching others (including Bryce) go pro and live their dreams. However, this only elevates Roy's character in our minds. See, instead of being jealous and envious of Bryce (as some would be in that situation), Roy is estatic to see his friend and training partner be great. That, more than anything else, really made Bryce come across as a good person to us—someone we could get behind.
And it goes both ways: Bryce also believed in, encouraged, and stood up for Roy when they were growing up in the minor leagues. Roy is a perfect friend and training partner: the kind of person who makes us better and happier.
Bryce and Roy form an awesome dynamic due with Roy as the all-star pitcher and Bryce as the all-star slugger. They're practically as close as brothers throughout most of this book.
Now, there are times when the writing is a bit overly-wordy. There are times when the writing is windy and weavy. Case in point: the author constantly makes thinly veiled inside jokes and references to famous MLB players and baseball in general. Even if you get these puns and references (as an adult), you've gotta think that very few children will get them. Yes, there are some baseball fanatics like Roy who will understand, but the majority of readers are not going to be fanatics. The majority of readers are going to be young kids who just want to read a good story with good characters, and thankfully this book delivers in both regards. However, the constant puns and references do create some complications, turning this otherwise simple book into a little bit of a maze. If you find your read-aloud sessions getting bogged down by these, you could, of course, just skip those parts and hope that the kids (depending on their reading level) won't notice.
The other thing that bothered us just a teensy little bit was that there are a few huge gaps between major events in the book. For example, one moment Roy and Bryce are just kids playing in their back yard, the next moment they're trying out for the major leagues. One moment Roy is in a hospital bed, the next moment he's pitching in the World Series. It's a little bit jarring, but we get it: you don't want to test the patience and attention spans of kids. You also don't want to pay a fortune for more pages of illustrations just to pad out the story. That, along with the abrupt ending, still left us wondering and feeling like something was missing.
Anyway, this book clearly comes from a place of heart and passion, and it shows. These authors LOVE baseball. We also loved the positivity and inspiring nature of this book.
Check it out on Amazon!