Monday, April 19, 2010

Baseball and Children's Books: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

While most of the country was mailing their taxes this past April 15, I was busy watching baseball. The Atlanta Braves were playing the Padres at PETCO Park in San Diego. In case you were wondering, Braves rookie, Jason Heyward hit a pair of RBI doubles, Martin Prado hit a home run, and the Braves won the game 6-2... but that is not what made the game stand out in my mind. I was eating pizza with my step-dad and mom when I noticed that every player was wearing the number 42.

"Why is everyone wearing number 42? That number is retired! They can't do that."

Number 42 was Jackie Robinson's number.


Well that explained it. On April 15, 1997, Major League Baseball made #42 the first and only number to be retired and unwearable by any team in the present and future in honor of Jackie Robinson

For those of you that don't know, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball when he was signed on to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Esentially, he engineered the integration of professional sports in America by breaking the color barrier in baseball, which was no easy feat. He endured taunts, threats, even deliberate spikings on the ball field. Despite it all, he played the game better than most and helped lead his team to victory. The Dodgers won 94 games during the 1947 season and finished first in their division. In 1962, his first year of eligability, he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

What many don't realize is how many people Jackie Robinson affected outside of the sport he loved. In Myron Uhlberg's book Dad, Jackie, and Me, we hear a fictionalized account of the 1947 baseball season from the perspective of a young boy and his deaf father as they follow the progress of Robinson's rookie year. 

The boy loves baseball and is thrilled when his father brings home tickets to see the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field. This is the first time that the boys father has shown any real interest in baseball and the young boy is somewhat embarrassed of his deaf father.


"When the game started and Jackie ran out on the field, Dad yelled real loud, "Jackiee, Jackiee, Jackiee!" Only it didn't come out that way. It sounded like, "AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE!" Since my dad couldn't hear, he had no way of knowing what the words should sound like.

Everyone looked at my dad.

I looked at my shoes."

Throughout the book, the father and son continue to go to games and keep track of everything Robinson did that season. You begin to understand, that, like Jackie, the boys father has to face and overcome prejudice in his own life due to peoples preconceived notions of what it means to be deaf. Being deaf doesn't mean you are dumb or incapable. Robinson became an icon for the father to look up to and a way to connect with his son.

Uhlberg states in his author's note that while the story is fiction, it is based in fact. 


"During Jackie's first year as a Dodger, my father took me to many games. He told me to watch carefully how the opposing team would single Jackie out for unfair treatment, how they would actively discriminate against him on the field just because his skin was brown. 'Just you watch,' he said. 'Jackie will show them that his skin color has nothing to do with how he plays baseball. He will show them all that he is as good as they are."

Dad, Jackie, and Me was illustrated by Colin Bootman and won the 2006 ALA Schneider Family Book Award and was a 2006 International Reading Association Teachers' Choice. Myron has also authored three other picture books with Peachtree and a memoir, Hands of My Father, with Bantam.

Other Baseball books from Peachtree:

5 comments:

  1. Wow -- this is an fabulous post. I'm not a huge baseball fan, but you are right about how the breaking of one barrier can lead to the smashing of others.

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  2. The following don't fall under the Peachtree
    imprimatur but they're definitely worth tracking down. The "Chip Hilton" Series by
    Clair Bee (10 of the 24 titles are about
    Baseball) and John Tunis' "Dodgers" Series
    (esp. "The Kid from Tompkinsville") Both series certainly are aimed for YA readers.
    One footnote regarding the retirement of Jackie Robinson's #42 --- there is one current player who is still allowed to wear it: Mariano Rivera of the NY Yankees. Some sort of "grandfathering" dispensation. Also the main rotunda at the NY Mets' Citi Field
    is named in honored of Mr. Robinson ( the owners have a single-minded fondness for all
    things Brooklyn Dodgers).

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  3. Thanks so much Beth Fish. It's always wonderful to get praise, especially since I am a big fan of your blog!

    Mike, as always, you have tons of great information! I appreciate you stopping by!

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  4. Dad, Jackie, and Me makes me cry when I read it...it's such a beautiful picture book, and a great read-aloud, perfect for older elementary school-aged kids.

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  5. I forgot to mention my other favorite children's book where Jackie Robinson plays a role--the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord. have you read that one? If you don't know it, here's the summary from SLJ: " A ten-year-old Chinese girl emigrates to America [in 1947] and assimilates into the Chinese-American Shirley Temple Wong. After earning the friendship of the toughest girl in the class, she is included in the playground stickball games and becomes a loyal fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers." It's very funny but also moving and a really short chapter book.

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