Jackie Robinson, 'Testing The Ice' For His Children

'Testing the Ice' illustration

hide captionIn Testing the Ice, Sharon Robinson describes how her father, baseball great Jackie Robinson, used to walk out onto a frozen pond to make sure it was safe for his kids to go skating.

Kadir Nelson
Robinson Family i i

hide captionJackie Robinson with his wife, Rachel, and their three children Sharon (upper left), Jackie Jr. (lower left) and David.

Robinson Family Collection
Robinson Family

Jackie Robinson with his wife, Rachel, and their three children Sharon (upper left), Jackie Jr. (lower left) and David.

Robinson Family Collection
'Testing the Ice'
Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson
By Sharon Robinson
Paperback, 40 pages
Scholastic Press
List price: $16.99
Read An Excerpt
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When Sharon Robinson, daughter of famed baseball player Jackie Robinson, wanted to teach kids about her father, she decided to work with illustrator Kadir Nelson on a children's book. But instead of focusing the book on the achievement for which her father is most famous — breaking baseball's color barrier — Sharon Robinson chose a more humble, personal moment.

As she explains to Steve Inskeep, the story she tells in Testing the Ice centers on the time her father — who could not swim — would walk out onto a frozen pond to make sure the ice was safe before allowing his children to go skating.

"He was very reluctant. He had to do something that was frightening even to him," Robinson recalls.

But her father needed to make sure the ice was safe for his three children and their friends, so he forced himself to confront his fears.

"[This story] so perfectly defines Jackie Robinson the athlete, Jackie Robinson the husband, the father, the loving, the courageous, the caring," she says. "I wanted children to understand the totality of this man and how consistent he was in both his public persona and his personal one."

Nelson, who illustrated the book, says he wanted readers to have a sense of the weight of Jackie Robinson on the ice, so he purposefully painted the scene from above.

"You're looking down on him, to build the suspense," he says.

Nelson's illustrations include scenes from throughout Jackie Robinson's life, including his meeting with Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who brought Robinson on board.

"I had done quite a bit of research on the Negro leagues and Jackie Robinson for another book that I had illustrated, so I was somewhat familiar with the scene, and it was important to understand that this was a partnership where both of them were equally involved in integrating baseball. They both had to be strong and resilient, and I really wanted to show that in the illustration," Nelson says.

Excerpt: 'Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson'

Sharon Robinson i i

hide captionSharon Robinson is an educational consultant for Major League Baseball. She has written several nonfiction books about her father, Jackie Robinson, including Promises to Keep and Jackie's Nine.

John Vecchiolla
Sharon Robinson

Sharon Robinson is an educational consultant for Major League Baseball. She has written several nonfiction books about her father, Jackie Robinson, including Promises to Keep and Jackie's Nine.

John Vecchiolla
Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson
By Sharon Robinson
Paperback, 40 pages
Scholastic Press
List price: $16.99

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."

With stick in hand, Dad took a few steps forward in the frozen lake to test the ice. The ice crackled beneath his feet as he walked.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Dad took a few more steps forward.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Then suddenly,
BOOOOOOM!
A terrible noise roared from the river below...
"Dad!" I shrieked. I was sure the ice was going to open up and swallow him!
All the kids inched closer in disbelief, and waited for what seemed like forever...

"It was just an air bubble!" Dad called to us, as the sound moved down the lake.
Dad took a few more steps, tapping as he moved to the deepest part of the lake. He stopped, gave one last tap with his stick, then turned to us and called out,
"It's safe! Put on your skates!"

We cheered as loudly as we could, and we skated circles around Dad as he walked back onto solid ground. All I could think was:
My dad is the bravest man alive.

From Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson. Copyright 2009 by Sharon Robinson. Published by Scholastic Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Books Featured In This Story

Testing the Ice
Testing the Ice

A True Story About Jackie Robinson

by Sharon Robinson and Kadir Nelson

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