“Jackie Robinson Overcomes”
When Jackie Robinson took the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he not only changed baseball, he changed American history. We justly remember him as a civil rights pioneer who integrated Major League Baseball, but his remarkable story also touches on a number of topics middle grade readers will find interesting, timely and relevant to their own lives.
As a former sportswriter who now teaches at the elementary school level, I wanted to find a way to communicate what can be positive about sports to middle grade readers. The answer was obvious – the Jackie Robinson story. As I researched my book, Brooklyn Bat Boy, historical fiction about Robinson’s 1947 season told through the eyes of the Dodgers 12-year-old bat boy, I was reminded of how important Robinson’s legacy is in a variety of ways.
In developing curriculum to go with the book, I tried to focus on how the Jackie Robinson story is interesting to middle grade students because it has a hero, good triumphs over evil, there is a day of celebration, his story has relevance to things still happening today and the story can be used to teach about bullying, friendship and teamwork. Best of all – it’s got baseball!
A Hero To Root For
Kids love heroes and Jackie Robinson is a classic example of what it means to be a hero. He faced an incredibly difficult situation and through courage and determination emerged victorious while also helping to make the world a better place. His story is historically important on a number of levels.
He changed an American institution in 1947, years before the Civil Rights milestones of the 1950s and 60s. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said of Robinson, “He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”
When releasing his documentary Jackie Robinson, in the spring of 2016, filmmaker Ken Burns said of Robinson, “I would argue that he is the most important person in the history of American sports and he is one of the greatest Americans who’s ever lived – period.”
Good wins! Good wins!
The Jackie Robinson story is one of integration overcoming segregation, diversity overcoming racism, acceptance overcoming bias, one season of change overcoming decades of stubbornness, one man’s determination overcoming a chorus of doubters. It was a time when America made a positive change for the better. In short, it’s a feel-good story where kids will find themselves rooting for Jackie Robinson.
Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day every year on April 15. Every player on every team wears a jersey with the number “42” – the number Robinson wore with the Dodgers. It’s also the only day to see anyone in a “42” jersey because the number has been retired for all teams in MLB, something that has never been done for any other player.
It’s always fun for students to be able to build towards a special day that relates to what they are studying, and Jackie Robinson Day makes for a fun goal date. It’s also a great day to schedule a special activities or events.
From 1947 to 2016
While things have improved significantly in American race relations since 1947, any glance at the news of today will show that there is still plenty of work to be done, and there are still lessons to be learned from the Jackie Robinson story as we move forward. Elementary school students will vary in their ability to understand today’s events or their own attitudes about diversity, but learning about someone who dealt with these issues before can give them a way into understanding their own feelings and views.
Bullies, Buddies and Teammates
Any definition of bullying can be applied to what Jackie Robinson went through. In 1947, he withstood racial epithets, death threats and pitchers throwing at him, yet still found a way to show courage and earn respect without resorting to violence. While middle grade readers might not understand how his actions set a template for non-violent resistance in the Civil Rights Movement in coming decades, they will definitely be able to understand how fans, opposing players and even teammates who initially opposed Robinson came to cheer him. Many things that he went through can create great discussion moments in the classroom about bullying, the effects bullying has on other people, ways to help stop bullying, what it means to be a friend and what it means to work as a team.
By the Way, There’s Baseball
Did I mention baseball? It’s more enjoyable to study any subject when you add baseball to the mix.
Jackie Robinson is not only a pivotal figure in American history, he is also a hero whose story can still have relevance and meaning for children today.
About the Author:
Geoff Griffin has worked as a teacher, lawyer, journalist and editor. He has over 20 years of experience writing for a variety of newspapers and magazines. He has had a number of essays published in anthologies and is co-host of the award-winning Travel Brigade Radio Show and Podcast. Brooklyn Bat Boy is Griffin’s first work of fiction.
Brooklyn Bat Boy
About the Book:
Bobby Kelly is a 12-year-old Brooklyn boy who loves playing stickball in the street with his friends and cheering for the Dodgers. Bobby’s dream of being part of the Dodgers comes true in 1947 when he lands the job of bat boy for the team. There’s just one thing Bobby’s not sure about. The Dodgers are planning to do something that has never been done before. An African-American named Jackie Robinson will be playing for Brooklyn. Bobby isn’t sure how to feel about it, especially since members of his family and kids in his neighborhood don’t like the idea. In order to truly become part of the Dodgers, Bobby will have to learn to accept Robinson as a member of the team and learn from his example. This fictional story looks at an important point in baseball history from a young person’s perspective and highlights the time period, including using popular slang from the East Coast in the 1940s.
Thank you, Geoff, for this post! We love baseball and had so much fun reading it!