With so many famous people, we know just one story. At least, that’s true for me. I know about Paul Revere’s famous ride, and Betsy Ross’s famous flag. I know that Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, and that Jackie Robinson was the first Black man to play major league baseball.
But what else do I know about them? Not much.
Which is a shame. People aren’t just one story, one event. They have lives that are rich and complex. And we’re richer for knowing more about them.
The United States v. Jackie Robinson
Which is why I love The United States v. Jackie Robinson. All I knew about Jackie Robinson was that he broke the color barrier for major league baseball. And if that’s all he’d ever done, he would still deserve a place in our stories and in our hearts.
But that’s not all he ever did. And author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen tells us another story of his life. She starts with Robinson’s childhood, so readers can put the story in perspective. Then she moves to his time in college. His university, UCLA, admitted both whites and blacks, and both whites and blacks played on their sports teams. He was the first student at UCLA ever to earn varsity letters in four sports: not just baseball, but also football, basketball, and track.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Robinson joined the army. Everything about the army was still segregated by race. Even baseball.
Until May 1944. That’s when racial segregation was ended on US military posts and buses. Or at least, that’s when it was supposed to end. But two months later, when Robinson took a seat on an army bus, the driver told him to go to the back. Robinson ignored him. The driver decided to let him keep his seat. But when they got to his stop, he had the military police come to arrest him.
In August, the trial began. It lasted five hours. And Robinson won. He was acquitted of all charges.
But after the trial, Robinson asked to leave the army. That’s when he took up his second career: Baseball. We know that story, how he played in the Negro League, then the minor leagues, and finally, in 1947, joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking a barrier that had existed in professional baseball since 1888.
Illustrations and resources
Illustrator R. Gregory Christie was eminently well qualified to bring Robinson’s story to life. Christie’s resume looks like a catalog of illustrator awards. He’s received a Caldecott Honor once, the Coretta Scott King Honor Award in Illustration five times, and thrice received the New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year Award. He’s also won the Boston Globe’s Horn Book Award, the NAACP’s Image Award, the American Library Association’s Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for illustration, and the Once Upon a World Children’s Book Award from the Museum of Tolerance.
With all that, I have to admit that I don’t care for the illustrations. They strike me as amateurish, like what you’d see in a low-budget self-published book. Which this is most certainly not! But, given Christie’s credentials, and the fact that I’m not an artist, I’d say the fault is in me and not in the illustrations. There must be more to them than I can see.
After the end of the story, the book contains a lengthy, detailed timeline, a bibliography, and an author’s note. All of these will be valuable for children who want to dive deeper into Jackie Robinson’s life.
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