fiction favorites…Jackie and Me

Jackie and Me, by Dan Gutman

The bedroom door opened, and out strolled a man with a pigeon-toed walk I had seen only in photos…Here I was, meeting the great Jackie Robinson.  The Jackie Robinson who was not only a member of The Baseball Hall of Fame, but also one of the most famous and important Americans of the twentieth century.
The old photos of Jackie Robinson don’t do him justice.  He was a very handsome man.  His skin was dark, so dark it was almost black.  He was wearing gray slacks and a white shirt, which made his skin seem even darker.  He was a little shorter than Dan Bankhead, but more muscular.  His eyes were deep, intense.  He turned toward me and stared right at me.  He gripped me with his eyes.

“Who’s the kid?” Jackie asked.
“Joe Stoshack,” I volunteered, grabbing for his hand.  “Everybody calls me Stosh.  It’s a pleasure and honor to meet you, Mr. Robinson.”
“Everybody calls me Jack, Stosh…Where’s your mama, son?”
I wasn’t sure what to say.  I was hesitant to tell anyone the whole story of how I traveled back through time.  It was too unbelievable.  They might think I was putting them on.  Or that I was crazy.
“Where’s your mama, Stosh?” Jackie repeated.
“Home.”

Joe Stoshack,  a school-age, baseball-loving boy from Louisville, Kentucky, has a secret.  He’s discovered a curious ability to travel back in time, by wishing on a baseball card.  That’s going to come in mighty handy for him when his teacher launches a contest for best class report on an important Black American.  All he’s got to do is come up with a Jackie Robinson card, zip back to 1947 Brooklyn, and get a first-hand look at Robinson’s start with the Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.   Easy pie.

Things don’t go quite that smoothly, however.  For starters, when Joe lands in Brooklyn, he’s turned into a young black boy, rather than the white, Polish kid he usually is.  That’s an eye-opener!   Then, when he attempts to fulfill his father’s request to come back with a suitcase full of valuable old baseball cards, Joe runs into a whole lot of trouble.  He soon realizes that facing angry, accusatory folk as a black person in the 40s is a lot hotter than he bargained for.

Despite the difficulties, Joe has a pretty awesome time of it — living with Jackie Robinson and his wife and son, working as a bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers, watching Joe DiMaggio play ball, and collecting an autograph from Babe Ruth!  He also gets a pungent taste of Brooklyn in this post-war era, a city of immigrants and stick ball, Good Humor trucks and trolley cars.  Best of all, Joe is witness to the classy, disciplined way in which Jackie Robinson chooses to respond to the insults, hostility, threats, and sickening segregation laws, which dog his every step.  The lessons Joe learns from Jackie, in life, and in baseball, are definitely more valuable than rookie baseball cards  when he arrives back home.

Dan Gutman has written a couple other Baseball Card Adventure novels.  This is the only one I’ve read.  I didn’t know quite what to expect, but…I liked it!  It’s full of tangy historical details, and zips right along with its snappy, uncomplicated plot.  Entertaining, informative, revealing highlights of the important, difficult victories won by Jackie Robinson without as sober a tone as is found in most books on this topic.  Sports-lovers ages 9 and up will enjoy the story, be introduced to some significant issues, and come away with a knowledge of Robinson that might easily lay the ground for reading a more thorough biography.    A final chapter clarifies for the reader which elements are historical, and what liberties were taken, as well as summarizing Robinson’s achievements during his all-too-short life.

If you like this one, he’s written others about Satchel Paige, Roberto Clemente, Jim Thorpe, and a number of others.

Here’s the Amazon link: Jackie & Me (Baseball Card Adventures)