Mary Ann's Reviews > Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson

Testing the Ice by Sharon Robinson
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Oct 14, 09

it was amazing
bookshelves: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, african-american, biography, autobiography, families, fathers, history
Read in October, 2009

I especially love sharing picture book biographies with young children. They are intrigued by the real stories, and the best of these books push students to think about bigger issues. Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson, is a wonderful, stirring picture book by Sharon Robinson and Kadir Nelson that shares the story of Jackie Robinson with a young audience.

Sharon Robinson, daughter of famed baseball player Jackie Robinson, wrote this book to teach kids about her father, but she focuses on a personal memory of her childhood to illustrate her father's strength and courage. With beautiful skill, Ms. Robinson draws us into her childhood memory of her father's achievements in baseball, but then she quickly focuses on moving to a lakeside home in Connecticut. Young readers learn about the Negro League through stories that her father told her friends. The children "all sat there wide-eyed, listening to his every word."

When her father retired from baseball after the 1956 season, Sharon remembers spending more time together as a family, playing in the lake by their home. But her dad always found an excuse not to get in the water. The climax of the book happens that winter, when the children beg to go ice skating. The children watch Jackie venture onto the ice, and Sharon suddenly realizes -- her father doesn't know how to swim! Will he be OK? But Sharron's horror changes to relief as Jackie bravely taps his way to the middle of the lake -- and declare it safe!

Not only does Ms. Robinson share a childhood memory, but she effectively builds a metaphor for breaking the color barrier. As she said in an interview on National Public Radio, "[This story:] so perfectly defines Jackie Robinson the athlete, Jackie Robinson the husband, the father, the loving, the courageous, the caring," she says. "I wanted children to understand the totality of this man and how consistent he was in both his public persona and his personal one."

The artwork by Kadir Nelson is at once inspiring and intimate. Nelson's pictures draw children into both what it would feel like to be a child in Robinson's family, but also some of the iconic images of the Robinson as a baseball player. Nelson particularly wanted to portray Jackie Robinson from the perspective of the children looking up to him. "He's like a father of a generation," he told Sharon Robinson.
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