Warrior on the Mound is a middle grade novel written by Sandra W. Headen. Now a full time writer, she previously taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in The School of Public Health. In a guest blog post for The School Library Journal, she shared about her inspiration for this story, stating, “Deep admiration for my grandfather inspired me to write my middle grade historical novel, Warrior on the Mound. I wanted to tell a story about how a boy living in the Jim Crow South could grow into a self-confident and fearless Black man as I believed my grandfather to be.”

As a fifth-grade teacher passionate about American History, I find it crucial to share impactful books with my students. Warrior on the Mound stands out for its profound writing and seamless integration of baseball history, a sport close to my heart.

Cover of the book, Warrior on the Mound by Sandra W. Headen. Image of young Black boy wearing a baseball hat and holding a bat. There is a figure in the background that is transparent and holding onto his shoulders.

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Summary of Warrior on the Mound

Cato Jones has a love for baseball that has been passed on from his father. In 1939, he is twelve years old and has his sites set on becoming a pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues just like his brother and his father. Cato’s father is always on his mind even though he died many years ago, causing Cato to now be raised by his grandparents. Cato’s family finds it difficult to discuss the circumstances surrounding his death. Instead they shield him from the details by not telling him about it.

Cato and his teammates scope out a local white team’s brand-new baseball field one day, skipping school. After being found out, the consequences are more than they expected. Racial tensions run high and threats become very serious causing difficult events from the town’s past to come up again.

The teams resolve the issues on the ball field, amidst significant tension between the white team and the Black team.

Warrior on the Mound addresses the issues of segregation, social injustice, and difficult events that were common in the South. Through these events, you will find positive themes of young boys who have big dreams, friendship, and the power of community. I found the positive ending of the story pleasing and enjoyed immersing myself in Cato’s large family culture.

Age Level

The publishers from Holiday House Books recommend this book for kids ages 8-12.

I would note that there are a couple of tense events that I would recommend reading with a younger child. In one scene, a group of boys steals a kitten, burns it with a cigarette, and then attempts to hang it with a noose. Someone rescues the kitten and cares for it very kindly, but the scene is difficult and I think it would be important to talk about with your child.

Even with a scene like this, the narrative is accessible and engaging, making it a fantastic choice for young readers who are interested in baseball and history.

Analysis and Evaluation of Warrior on the Mound

Warrior on the Mound is a powerful book about the history of Negro League Baseball, the players that were banned from Major League Baseball teams by the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1887. Long before Jackie Robinson, these men created their own segregated league so they could play the sport that they loved. Headen does a great job of introducing readers to key players from this time period like Satchel Paige and Buck O’Neil, and also leaves you wanting to research a little more.

The author wants you to know that despite facing much opposition, these Black men worked hard in many aspects of life, not just baseball. The racial tension in the south was perilous. Unexpectedly, the main character, Cato, formed an alliance with a white boy on the opposing baseball team. Their friendship is refreshing amidst such complicated feelings. Watching the kids take the lead in their relationship is powerful and influences many others in the small town.

Through the lens of a caring family, some struggling to offer forgiveness to others, readers see a beautiful picture of kindness. The main characters stand up for what is right and also offer grace to others.

Warrior on the Mound Discussion Questions

  • How does Cato’s passion for baseball shape his hopes and dreams in the story?
  • Why is Cato’s grandfather important to him? How does he influence Cato’s decisions?
  • How does the author use historical facts to make the story more interesting?
  • What are some examples of racial discrimination in the book? How do they affect the characters?
  • Talk about the friendship between Cato and Trace. Why is it important?
  • How do Cato’s family and community support him throughout the challenges he faces?
  • Can you name some events in the story that show the struggles Black baseball players faced during the Jim Crow era?
  • How does Cato change as a person throughout the story? What causes these changes?
  • Why is forgiveness an important theme in the book? Can you think of a time when forgiveness played a role in the story?
  • What does the title Warrior on the Mound mean? How does it relate to the characters in the book?

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A Book Review & Guide: Warrior on the Mound by Sandra W. Headen. Image of book cover. Includes a young boy wearing a baseball hat and holding a bat. There is a similar figure in the background that is transparent and holding his shoulders.


Warrior on the Mound emerges as a compelling story that intertwines themes of racial segregation, friendship, and the power of resilience. Sandra W. Headen’s vivid portrayal of Cato’s journey through the challenges of the Jim Crow South. It not only educates young readers about the history of Negro League Baseball but also instills valuable lessons about perseverance and compassion. The book captures the spirit of its time and delivers a poignant message. Some sensitive scenes may require guidance for younger readers. Nevertheless, its accessible narrative and engaging storytelling make it a noteworthy addition to any young reader’s library. It is sure to sparke conversations about history, social justice, and the enduring power of friendship.

Find other book reviews in our book review library, and be sure to check out my other resources to help you make the most of your reading time with your kids!

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