The book: “I Am Jackie Robinson,” from the series “Ordinary People Change the World”
The author: Brad Meltzer
The illustrator: Christopher Eliopoulos
The vital statistics: Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group, 40 pages, $12.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: The books we’ve reviewed on this special day in past years of this annual series have pretty heady in regards to what topically comes out about the life and times of Jackie Robinson.
Time to switch it up and get a little more back to the basics.
This one intended for the 5-to-8 age range (kindergarten to third grade) caught our attention because, in addition to this being a recent release, there was a review from the School Library Journal that included:
“This title … is a preachy, moralistic account of courage. Its sentimentality and sugary-sweetness are a throwback to motivational tales of a century ago. … Facts, including names, dates, and places, are few and far between, and the theme of bravery overrides all else. … Eliopoulos’s cartoonish illustrations are corny and, as Jackie is always shown as a small child (a characteristic of this series), border on disrespectful. This book isn’t complete or thorough enough for use as a biography, and the perky tone will likely cause eye-rolling among readers and listeners. There are many other more informative, better written books on Robinson that also emphasize the themes of courage and racial equality, such as Cathy Goldberg Fishman’s When Jackie and Hank Met (Marshall Cavendish, 2012), a picture book that parallels the lives of Robinson and Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, and April Jones Prince’s easy reader Jackie Robinson: He Led the Way (Penguin, 2007).”
OK, then. Maybe we’re setting the bar too low here? Is it possible this is really for kids under 5? Could this really cause that much damage to anyone’s psyche?
We had to investigate.
It’s not as if Meltzer is new to this whole paragraph-generating genre — his website points out he’s had bestsellers in fiction (with The President’s Shadow coming out in June as a sequel to The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin), non-fiction, (History Decoded), advice (Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter), children’s books (I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln) and even comic books (Justice League of America).
He takes the voice of Robinson as the narrator, explaining how he received his middle name “Roosevelt,” because his mother considered President Teddy Roosevelt to be a brave person who made sure black people were treated fairly.
“But having a brave name doesn’t make you a brave person,” Robinson explains. “In fact, as a kid, I didn’t like sleeping alone. I used to sleep in my mom’s bed. Even when she tried to bribe me, I wouldn’t leave.”
Well, right there, he’s telling kids not to listen to their mom. How horrible.
The underlying message delivered when by the end: Fear isn’t something that should prevent you from following what makes you happy.
Considering the age group reading this, that seems like a pretty positive thing to introduce. But as for other concerns …
Of all the other reviews we tried to compare to our feelings, maybe this one from a reader comment giving it five stars on Amazon.com makes the best case: “The story is animated in a playful manner, similar stylistically to Calvin & Hobbes. This makes it a thoroughly enjoyable read, especially for parents who might want something different than the traditional storytime fare.”
If you want your small child to understand how Jackie Robinson might have been thinking through his own growing pains, we can’t find much fault in exposing them to this.
More to know:
== If you need a “real” Robinson book for this day, then circle back to the Roger Kahn release from last September, “Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball”. It wasn’t our favorite Kahn job — “The Boys of Summer” will always be that — but this Leigh Montville review for the Wall Street Journal gives it some credence: “Hallelujah. Roger Kahn still has his fastball, and the boys of those long-ago summers live one more time for a different generation.”
== Recent past reviews of Robinson-related books include last year’s “Jackie and Campy,” and the 2013 “Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life After Baseball.“