Friday, October 23, 2009

Ooohhh, I got to meet Jackie Robinson's daughter!

Say the name "Jackie Robinson" to yourself. What do those words conjure up? I'm guessing something along the lines of amazing-baseball-hero-first-black-groundbreaking-brave-iconic-wow, right? He's somebody so legendary that he almost doesn't seem real.

I met his daughter!! And as you probably know, Sharon Robinson just happens to be a children's book author, and her first picture book, Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson (illustrated by Kadir Nelson, awesomely enough - Scholastic), has just been published. To celebrate, the folks at Scholastic Book Fairs invited me along to a luncheon in honor of Sharon and Kadir, where I managed to accidentally seat myself at their table.

I felt Very Shy, but it didn't matter in the slightest as Sharon turned out to be a warm and friendly conversationalist who chatted easily with all of us as if she hadn't been visiting several schools and libraries a day, being interviewed by PW, NPR, and so on, and in general undergoing a whirlwind book tour. In Kadir, however, I sense a kindred spirit - he is clearly someone who would rather listen than talk - and maybe he'd just rather be painting instead.

After lunch, Sharon shared some anecdotes about her dad and spoke about how worried he was when he would test the ice every winter for the neighborhood kids despite not being able to swim. In the book, she uses this as a metaphor for the way he fearlessly tackled his tough but vital role as the first black ball player in the Major Leagues; the two stories are interwoven together as Jackie tells the neighborhood kids about those early days.

Kadir's oil paintings are playful (check out the front cover), action-packed (Jackie sliding into home on the back cover), and solemn by turns (Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson face to face, making history together). His portrayal of the kids is somewhat goofy and fun, but Jackie is masterfully portrayed both as a loving family man and a dignified national hero, rolled into one great guy.

Oh, and it turns out that Sharon once lived in Venice, CA! It was in the late 70s, when the boardwalk swarmed with discoing rollerskaters - Sharon allowed as how she had a pair of rollerskates herself. Once a Venetian, always a Venetian...

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