Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jackie Robinson: Strong Inside and Out

This biography introduces children to an amazing man, who was not only a phenomenal baseball player, but who also had the inner strength to endure heaps of abuse as he single-handedly broke the color barrier of professional sports. The story of Jackie Robinson's life is set amidst the historical backdrop of racial segregation. When Jackie was a young boy, his family encountered discrimination when they moved to a recently integrated neighborhood in California. Jackie dropped out of college because he wouldn't have any realistic job prospects, even with a college degree. And the racial discrimination continued as Jackie served as a soldier in WWII. Although true to the history of racism and race based discrimination in the United States, it is Jackie's inner strength, his unbelievable ability to play great baseball in the midst of such hatred, that become this book's focus and also became Jackie Robinson's most important legacy. Jackie Robinson was not the best African American baseball player in 1947; there were more experienced and more skilled players in the Negro Leagues. But, just as the Brooklyn Dodger's manager Branch Rickey bet, Jackie Robinson was an athlete who also had the strength of character to "not fight back".

The pacing of this book, along with plenty of pictures, both historical and contemporary, kept my fourth and fifth grade readers very engaged. The book's baseball lingo and its historical context required that several of my students be given additional background information to support their comprehension. Sidebars tell the story of Roberto Clemento, the first Latino player to be elected to the hall of fame, and the story of Satchel Paige, a hall of fame pitcher who spent most of his career in the Negro Leagues. The final pages are a recent interview with Jackie's daughter Sharon, which makes immediate the fact that this story may be accompanied by many black and white photos, but it was only two or three generations back that countless sports fans watched in admiration as Jackie Robinson played major league baseball.

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