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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Testing the Ice - A True Story about Jackie Robinson

Reviewed: October 21, 2009
By: story by Sharon Robinson / illustrations by Kadir Nelson
Publisher: Scholastic Press
40 pages, $0.00

Jackie Robinson is certainly best known for being the first black player to break the colour bar that kept African-American players out of major league baseball. He did this in 1947 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. That story is part of this little book. Robinson’s daughter uses the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series win to open her story, and tells the tale of his entry into the majors as part of the middle of the book, but the real story here is about something more personal. a memory from her childhood.

The year of that win, and the year before he retired from playing baseball, the family moved from New York City to a home in the country near Stamford Connecticut. One of the features of their new home that the kids loved was a large pond that connected with their neighbour’s property, and all the kids used to play in it: rowing, swimming, splashing about.

Jackie would watch from the shore, well back from the water. His daughter always wondered why he never came in with them. She finally figured it out one winter when they all wanted to go skating on the newly frozen pond. They watched as Jackie donned winter clothes, took up a stout pole and tapped his way to the center of the pond, testing to see if it was safe.

Suddenly, Sharon realized the truth. Her father, who had grown up in poverty in Pasadena, California, had never learned to swim. For her, the courage he showed in tending to the kids’ safety was like what he had done in baseball.

“No one really knew what would happen. But he felt his way along an untried path -like a blind man tapping for clues.”

Kadir Nelson was able to use Robinson family photos to prepare the stunning pencil, watercolour and oil paint illustrations that do so much to help tell the story in this fine little book.

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