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Teacher-turned-author takes children's book on Buck O'Neil to Cooperstown

Buck O'Neil Greatest Thing book.png
Posted at 1:18 PM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-23 18:31:18-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kristy Nerstheimer remembers what stood out most the day she met Buck O'Neil during a visit to her classroom.

"His loving spirit," she said. "He was just so charismatic and I just fell in love with that spirit immediately. He just had a way of talking to the crowd and making the kids feel loved."

When Nerstheimer wanted to share more of his story, she couldn't find it easily accessible, but a professor at Park University was already working to fix that problem.

"Kathy Howe had a vision to present or offer more diverse books, nonfiction books for children, so she came to The Little Fig," Sherry Bushue, owner of the local publishing company, said.

Through a lot of collaboration and consideration, the "Nonfiction Writers Intensive" course was born.

"You could submit an idea and there was a chance of publication at the end," Nerstheimer said. "That was the idea I submitted, because I really want kids to get to know and love Buck the way that I do."

Her idea — a book about O'Neil titled after his favorite song, "The Greatest Thing" — was chosen for publication.

"It was surreal. It really was a dream come true," she said. "I've been wanting to be a children's book author for a while now and it was just pure elation."

The book tells the story of O'Neil's baseball journey during a time of segregation and how he overcame with and through love.

O'Neil's family, Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs and even the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum all signed off on licensing and approval.

NLBM President Bob Kendrick said the book will introduce many more children to O'Neil's enduring legacy.

"I wish every child in America could be touched by the spirit of Buck O'Neil," he said. "Through this beautifully written and illustrated book, they can."

Nerstheimer explained what inspired her to write "The Greatest Thing: A Story About Buck O'Neil."

"I just really fell in love with the whole story of what he went through and what he was able to accomplish and do in the name of baseball and in the name of love," she said.

This year, The Little Fig helped get "The Greatest Thing" into the fourth-grade curriculum in Sarasota, Florida, where O'Neil was born.

Nerstheimer will do a reading of her book at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 25, at the library in Cooperstown, where O'Neil will be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame during a ceremony Sunday.

A portion of every sale of "The Greatest Thing" benefits the NLBM and a foundation created for Buck O'Neil's family.