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Jackie and Me Teaches Tolerance

Avon books and author Dan Gutman have hit a home run with a new book, Jackie and Me! Start with the story of Jackie Robinson and his important contributions to baseball and American history, then add to that engaging plot lines, colorful characters, and considerable surprises -- and you have a winning book, a perfect classroom read-aloud! Also: A new book from Scholastic highlights the best ball players of the Negro leagues, players who could have bested Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Lou Gehrig -- if only they'd been given the chance!

Jackie & Me Book Cover

Dan Gutman, author of the award-winning Honus and Me, has hit another one out of the park!

Anyone who read Honus and Me remembers how young Joe Stoshack uses his remarkable ability to travel through time via a baseball card to meet baseball great Honus Wagner. In Jackie and Me (Avon Camelot), Joe uses those same powers to learn about the life and times of baseball hero Jackie Robinson.

Transported back to 1947, Joe catches his reflection in a store window:

"As I turned my head to the left to tell Bankhead about the kid in the window, I noticed the kid turned his head at the same time. I turned my head to the other side. So did the black kid Wait a minute! That was no window! It was a mirror. I was looking at my reflection! I quickly brought my hand up to my face. The skin was dark. I had turned into a black kid!"

The last time Joe traveled back in time he had gone to bed dreaming he was a grown-up, and when he awoke it was 1909 and he was one. This time he will experience what it was like for Jackie Robinson to break the major league color barrier in the most real way possible -- as a young black boy who encounters some of the same prejudice that Robinson experiences. Along the way, Joe will learn mega-lessons about the importance of dignity, about courage, about tolerance, and about having the guts not to fight back.

Jackie and Me is part fantasy, part history, part biography. Young readers will enjoy following multiple plot lines while learning about a true American hero. As they travel back in time they'll experience baseball in an old-time ballpark (photos of Ebbets Field included), when the grass was really green and when excitement wasn't fueled by the electronic scoreboard prompting LET'S HEAR SOME NOISE!

And some of the things Joe learns along the way almost blow his cover! For example, when Joe becomes a batboy for the Brooklyn Dodgers he almost gives himself away when he asks, "What about the batting helmets?" Ball players didn't wear helmets in 1947! Another near giveaway -- Joe's look of astonishment when he buys a hot dog and gets 90 cents change from his dollar! And Joe is really stuck when Ant, a fellow batboy, challenges him with the words, "I bet you're so dumb, you don't even know who the President is." (Would you know who the president was in 1947?) Some of the things Joe says make Ant think the boy comes from Mars!

Even Jackie wonders sometimes!

Imagine Robinson's shock when he learns the truth about Joe Stoshack -- that he's actually a white boy who has traveled through time and is writing a school report in celebration of Black History Month.

"Wait a minute," Jackie said, holding up one hand and clutching his stomach with the other. "I can accept that traveling through time may be possible. I may even be able to believe a white kid could turn black. But Black History Month?" At that, Jackie let out a loud guffaw that woke the baby. "You've got to be kidding! White kids from Kentucky studying our history? Now I know you're crazy!"


Drama is part of Jackie's story and Gutman capitalizes on dramatic events to drive home some powerful messages. At first, Robinson is ostracized by his teammates. Many of the players treat him as if he were an intruder. (Joe doesn't feel the same divide because his role as batboy wasn't threatening to the players. The players were used to having African-Americans doing things for them.) Jackie senses the other players' silence around him, so one day he makes a brief speech to his teammates:

"Some of you may not like me because I'm a Negro. You certainly have the right to feel that way. I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being. Regardless of how you feel about me, I hope we can work together on the field. Thank you."

Later, as Joe is straightening up, he reads a ripped up paper that had been tossed into the clubhouse trash can. "We, the undersigned players of the Brooklyn Dodgers, agree that we wish to be traded rather than take the field with a colored man on our team."

With his typical quiet dignity, Jackie Robinson has diffused another powder keg.


That wouldn't be the last challenge to Jackie's presence. Many others followed. Gutman details written threats and threats by players on some teams to strike the game when the Dodgers and Jackie come to town. And when the Dodgers travel to Philadelphia, they aren't able to stay in the hotel they've always stayed in because Negroes aren't allowed to stay there. But that was only the first insult in Philadelphia:

"As the innings went by, the insults coming from the Phillie dugout got nastier. Chapman and his players were shouting awful things I had never heard before and can't bring myself to repeat. In the fifth inning, a few of the Phillies got up out of their dugout, pointed their bats toward Jackie, and made machine gun noises. In the sixth inning, one of them tossed a live black cat out of the dugout and yelled, 'Hey Robinson, there's your cousin.'"

That series of events was too much -- not for Robinson, but for one of his team members, Eddie Stanky, who suddenly stood up and blasted the Phillies' players. But Jackie preferred to fight back with his actions, not his words. Later in the game, after nearly being beaned by a pitch aimed at him by pitcher Schoolboy Rowe, Jackie singled, stole second, and scored the game-winning run! Dodgers 1, Phillies 0!

Gutman's humor and vivid writing will appeal to girls as well as boys. And there are some wonderful surprises in store for readers. (Without giving away all the details, time-traveling Joe meets a member of his modern-day community when that person was a youngster his own age in 1947!) Jackie and Me would make a great chapter book to use as a classroom read aloud. Read a chapter a day, and you'll have students begging you to read more. When the reading is done, many students will run to the library eager to learn more about an American hero and his times.


Fair Ball Book Cover Everyone has heard of baseball greats Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Ty Cobb. But how many have heard of Pop Lloyd, Oscar Charleston, or Buck Leonard? They were superstars, too, but not in the segregated major leagues.

For almost 60 years, before Jackie Robinson broke the infamous "color barrier," black baseball players were not allowed to play in the major leagues, so they formed leagues of their own. Just like the majors, these leagues, known as the Negro Leagues, had world series, all-star games, and legendary heroes -- most of whom are, regrettably, unknown to young fans today.

Now, thanks to author, artist, and baseball fan Jonah Winter, readers have the thrill of getting to know fourteen of these outstanding stars in Fair Ball: 14 Great Stars from Baseball's Negro Leagues (Scholastic Press). Winter's sensitive portraits and lively biographical profiles (complete with stats and career highlights) will win many new fans for some of baseball's most remarkable lost legends.

Sometimes Negro League teams would play major league teams in exhibition games, writes Winter in his introduction to the book: "The major league white teams lost so often, they finally refused to play the black teams anymore. The truth is, many of the black stars from this era were just plain better than their white counterparts. Josh Gibson hit more home runs than Babe Ruth. Cool Papa Bell was faster than Ty Cobb. And Satchel Paige won more games than Cy Young."

Today, Winter notes, many new books are being written about these amazing athletes and people are talking about them, but sadly the players aren't alive to hear the talk. "But if there's baseball in Heaven, as well there should be," writes Winter, "maybe Satchel Paige and Babe Ruth are both on the same all-star team." Winter closes the book with his "Ultimate All-Star Teams in the Sky," two teams made up of the greatest ball players of all time -- and of all colors.

Both of the books highlighted this week are available in bookstores. If you are unable to locate either book, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publishers directly.

  • Jackie and Me is written by Dan Gutman and published by Avon Camelot (1999), an imprint of Avon Books, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.

  • Fair Ball! !4 Great Stars from Baseball's Negro Leagues is written and illustrated by Jonah Winter and published by Scholastic Press. Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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