A courageous sports figure with a secret fear.
One of the most courageous sports figures in American history stared racism in the face but had a secret fear: Jackie Robinson couldn't swim.
In the delightful picture book Testing the Ice (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 5 to 9), Sharon Robinson -- daughter of the baseball legend -- tells young readers the tale of the first player to integrate professional baseball, as well as a family story that reflects her father's character.
Shortly before the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series (with Robinson sliding home to score in the first game), the Robinson family moved to a house on 6 acres in Stamford, Conn. The best part of the property, according to the Robinson youngsters, was the adjacent lake -- perfect for swimming and in the winter, skating. Jackie Robinson, though, stayed far from the water.
The story by Sharon Robinson nicely weaves together bits of her father's baseball accomplishments with family life, including the day his children and neighborhood friends talked Robinson into going with them to test the frozen lake for safe skating: "As we lined up along the lake's edge, Dad eased onto the snow-covered ice. I grabbed Christy's mittened hand and squeezed. " 'What's wrong?' she whispered. " 'I'm scared,' I replied, as the reality suddenly dawned on me. 'My dad can't swim.' "
In addition to the drama of the ice testing, the story offers a more subtle theme: What really matters to the children of famous people is not how the world sees their parents but how those parents relate to and serve as examples for their offspring.
The book is beautifully illustrated with paintings by Kadir Nelson, who used Robinson family photographs as inspiration. Nelson has written and illustrated another stellar book about black American accomplishments in sports: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.