January 15, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Jackie Robinson: Remembering an American Hero | Watch and Read

Jackie Robinson wore the number 42 on his Brooklyn Dodgers jersey when he stepped onto Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, and became the first African American player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. Released earlier this month by Legendary Pictures, 42 (PG-13) tells the story of the courageous man who changed history not only by proving his talent inside the ballpark, but by demonstrating tremendous composure, perseverance, and fortitude off the field as well.

Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson, who is signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers by the team’s forward- thinking general manager, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). Both men face a maelstrom of criticism, as Robinson encounters hostility from the public, the press, and even other ballplayers. Wanting to fight back but aware of the stakes, Robinson is determined to rely on his athletic abilities to win over fans, sway his teammates, and change the course of the future.

Kids can visit the movie’s website for a preview. It’s a captivating, inspiring, and important story, and young moviegoers will want to know more about Robinson’s groundbreaking accomplishments as well as his life and times. Recommend these books to readers to shine light on a watershed piece of American history, illustrate the role that individuals can play to bring about change, and encourage the next generation of ballplayers to dream big.

42: The Official Movie Novel.  Aaron Rosenberg, adapt. Scholastic. 2013. pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-545-53753-7. Gr 3–6.

Film fans can relive the movie’s events and emotions through this fast-paced novelization, filled with crisp dialogue and game action. The difficult challenges Robinson faces on and off the field—racist taunts, day-to-day effects of segregation, threats of violence—are depicted, underscoring the intensity of the situation and emphasizing the depth of his commitment to his cause. Eight pages of full-color movie photos are included along with two archival images of Robinson.

Henry Aaron's Dream book coverHenry Aaron’s Dream. By Matt Tavares. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3224-3; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5820-5. Gr 3–5.

Growing up in segregated Alabama in the 1940s, Henry’s dream of entering the big leagues seemed way out of reach, until Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Inspired and encouraged, the young athlete followed Robinson’s career closely, while slowly making his way to the majors and a spot on the Milwaukee Braves. Tavares’s lyrical narrative culminates in 1954 when the Braves played an exhibition game against the Dodgers, and Henry shared the field with his hero. Large, lush-hued watercolors illustrate this picture book biography, depicting the personalities and adding game-time thrills.

Jackie Robinson: American Hero. By Sharon Robinson. Scholastic. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-56915-6; pap. $4.99. ISBN 978-0-545-54006-3.Gr 2–4.

The author’s accessible overview of her father’s life combines lively writing with an appealing assortment of ballpark and family snapshots. Brief chapters cover topics chronologically and conclude with a look at Robinson’s legacy as an athlete, family man, and equal- rights advocate. Explanations about the particulars of the time period, such as Jim Crow laws, are smoothly integrated into the easy-to-follow narrative, and unfamiliar terms are bolded in the text and defined in a glossary. The book’s large font and open layout will hit home with newly confident readers.

The Story of the Negro Leagues book coverThe Story of the Negro Leagues. By Bo Smolka. ISBN 978-1- 61783-510-0; ISBN 978-1-61480-125-2. The Negro Leagues’ Integration Era. _________. ISBN 978 -1-61783-509-4; ISBN 978-1-1480-124-5.
Great Hitters of the Negro Leagues.
By Paul Hoblin. ISBN 978-1-61783-507-0; ISBN 978-1-61480-122-1.
Great Pitchers of the Negro Leagues.
_________. ISBN 978-1-61783-508-7; ISBN 978-1-61480-123-8. ea vol: (The Negro Baseball Leagues Series). ABDO. 2013. PLB $22.95; ebook $22.95. Gr 4–8.

This series incorporates clearly written narratives, primary quotes, and a handsome layout packed with archival photos. Smolka recounts The Story of the Negro Leagues from their birth in the 1920s through their crowd-pleasing heyday to their decline after the color line was broken, while Integration Era focuses more closely on Robinson and other individuals who followed his difficult path. Both titles make sound connections to historical and social issues while also highlighting the talents, personalities, and fast-paced playing styles of the athletes. Kids who want to know more about the league’s legendary players such as slugger Josh Gibson and hurler Satchel Paige will enjoy dipping into Hoblin’s Great Hitters and Great Pitchers. Biographical profiles mix amazing on-the-field accomplishments with entertaining anecdotes, all with an eye to the issues of the times. Solid choices for baseball buffs, these books will also support a variety of curriculum subjects.

Promises To Keep book coverPromises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America. By Sharon Robinson. Scholastic. 2004. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780439678759. Gr 4–8.

Robinson chronicles the life of her father, describing not only his younger years and boundary-breaking experiences, but also his post-baseball career as a corporate businessman, work as a civil rights activist, and role as community leader. Though the book remains endearingly personal in tone, incorporating family anecdotes and insights, the author also presents lucid background about historical issues and events. The numerous illustrations include family snapshots, ballpark images, reproductions from magazines and newspapers, and love letters written by Robinson to his wife. An intimate and inviting tribute.

Play Ball Jackie book coverPlay Ball, Jackie! By Stephen Krensky. illus. by Joe Morse. Millbrook. 2011. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-822-59030-9. Gr 2–5.

Robinson’s historic Major League debut is described from the perspective of a young Dodgers devotee who watches from the grandstands with his father. Though some fans greet the rookie with heckling and hostility, his perseverance, skill, and all-out effort soon win over Matty, who leaves the stadium proudly wearing an “I’m for Jackie” button. The chiseled, sepia-hued illustrations explode with kinetic game-time action, powerful emotion, and details that colorfully establish the setting. This rousing fictional tale concludes with a historical note and photos.

Teammates book coverTeammates. By Peter Golenbock. illus. by Paul Bacon. Houghton Harcourt. 1990. Tr $17. ISBN 9780152006037; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780152842864; ebook $6.99. ISBN 9780547545592. K–Gr 6.

After providing a succinct overview of segregated society in the 1940s, the vast differences between life in the Negro Leagues and the Majors, and Jackie Robinson’s valiant first steps toward integration, Golenbock zooms in on a game played in 1947 against the Reds in Cincinnati. When local fans began to yell “terrible, hateful things” at Robinson, Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese decided to “take a stand.” He walked over to his teammate and put his arm around his shoulder, a simple gesture that spoke volumes. Airy watercolors are interspersed with black-and-white historical photos, adding depth and detail to a pivotal moment.

Testing the Ice book coverTesting the Ice: A True Story about Jackie Robinson. By Sharon Robinson. illus. by Kadir Nelson. Scholastic. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-05251-1. Gr 1–4.

Robinson’s charming childhood memoir paints a portrait of a loving father whose life was defined by courage and caring for others. After the family moved to a wooded property in Connecticut in 1955, Jackie often fielded questions from the wide-eyed neighborhood children about his entry into Major League Baseball. However, for young Sharon, her father’s bravery was truly brought home by a much more personal moment: when the Robinson offspring and their friends wanted to go ice skating on the frozen lake in their backyard, Dad readily stepped onto the surface to test the ice and ensure its safety—even though he couldn’t swim. Nelson’s rich-hued oil paintings command the eye to convey dramatic scenes of Robinson’s career and cozy interludes shared with loved ones.

We Are the SHip book coverWe Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. By Kadir Nelson. illus. by author. Hyperion. 2008. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-7868-0832-8. Gr 3–Up.

“We are the ship; all else is the sea.” In this book titled after a quote from Rube Foster, founder of the Negro National League, Nelson takes on the voice of an elderly player from the past. Comfortable as a worn-in baseball shoe, flavored with nostalgia, the text unwinds like an oral history, providing lots of fervor but never stinting on the facts. Well-organized chapters cover all of the bases, introducing the athletes and their audacious style of play while also touching upon challenges faced in a segregated society. Showcased on single pages and full spreads, the stunning paintings match the sparkle of the narrative, providing realistic images of these unsung heroes that glow with blazing courage and cool self- confidence. An excellent and engaging overview.

When Jackie and Hank Met. By Cathy Goldberg Fishman. illus. by Mark Elliott. Marshall Cavendish. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-6140-1. Gr 1–4.

This picture book presents side-by-side profiles of Robinson and Hank Greenberg, one of the first Jewish players in the Major League, both of whom possessed a love of the game, encountered prejudice on the field and off, and were determined to prove that baseball was “about talent, not about color or religion.” The geographical distance separating the two men is emphasized throughout the story (they were born 1000 miles apart, served on different continents during WW II, etc.), making all the more compelling the moment when they finally met (Jackie slid hard into Hank at first base during a 1947 Dodgers vs. Pirates game, resulting not in a fistfight, but a friendship). Stately paintings illustrate the text, which ends with biographical notes, chronologies, and resources.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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