Testing the Ice is a short biographical story about one event in the life of Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player in America. It was written by and from the point of view of an adoring daughter, Sharon Robinson. This story has earned the Choices Award in 2009 from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Parents’ Choice Award in 2009, as well as nominated for the Show Me Award in 2011.
The story begins with a brief history about who Jackie Robinson was, and why his contribution to the breaking of the color barrier was so important for America as well as for baseball. An enduring element of the telling of this story is that Robinson himself explains his accomplishments not proudly, but as a father and neighbor answering questions asked by children. It adds a sense of humility and helps connect the reader to Robinson’s story.
Robinson is also portrayed as a fun and loving father who spent time with his family. His daughter related how good it was to have him home which provided him with time to play with his children as well as the neighborhood children. During this special time that Sharon Robinson describes, her father taught them life long lessons about understanding, civility, and what it means to be a good father and successful man both professionally as well as privately.
However, all of his worldly accomplishments weren’t nearly as impressive to his children as the courage portrayed by Robinson when he stepped out on the ice during a cold winter day. On this one day the great baseball player became a visibly tangible hero. Sometimes news coverage, trophies, and verbal stories of greatness aren’t enough to show the true character of man. Sometimes it only takes one simple act. Such as conquering a fear to benefit a group of young children to provide the emotional connection needed to solidify a person’s hero status. Sharon Robinson gives the reader this solid image of her father’s heroism when she vividly explains the courage it took for her father to test the ice.
It is the pictures though which helps fully explain this story. Illustrated by Caldecott honor artist, Kadir Nelson, Robinson’s life story from baseball player, to loving father, to local hero is beautifully illustrated. In this book the drawings do not tell the story, they compliment the story. Most impressive is the way Nelson pays attention to the smallest of details. One picture shows Robinson and Branch Rickey discussing Robinson’s future in baseball’s major league, the illustrator beautifully captured the stoic Jackie Robinson as he considers Rickey’s challenge. In that picture children will see and feel the importance of this event. Throughout the book the illustrations depict the emotions felt by each character so clearly that it is almost impossible to not vicariously feel deeply for what is going on in the story. Those emotions range from intense concentration, to love, to caring, to challenge, to fear, and finally to jubilation. As Randall Enos of Booklist stated, these illustrations truly do have a Norman Rockwell quality to them (Enos).
Testing the Ice: A True Story about Jackie Robinson picture book offers a touching biographical historical fiction story which can be viewed independently, or used in the classroom for children of all ages. The story along with the illustrations can be used in elementary, middle, or high school as an example of discrimination, and how one man can make a difference for many. Initially, younger children will enjoy the courage it took Robinson to get out onto the ice, while older students will see the underlying meanings of the story. George DuBose reviewer for Children’s Literature wrote that “testing the ice on a frozen pond (was) a metaphor for Robinson breaking the race barrier in professional baseball” (DuBose). This review illustrates how easily this book could be used as in introductory lesson to the civil rights movement in a social studies unit or class.
Truly a great story for all ages!
DuBose, George. Children’s Literature (2009). Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database.
Web. 26 Aug. 2011.
Enos, Randall. Booklist 106.4 (2009). Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. Web. 26
Robinson, Sharon. Testing the Ice: A True Story about Jackie Robinson. Illus by Kadir Nelson.
New York: Scholastic, 2009. Print.