The Hero Two Doors Down
Scholastic, 2016 202 pgs
Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson's daughter, pens a work of fiction for young audiences based on the real experiences of her family during the time that Jackie lived in Brooklyn and played with the Dodgers in 1948 & 1949. Our story is told through the eyes of eight-year-old Steve, a boy living with his parents in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood near Ebbets Field. Like most of his neighbors, Steve and his father are huge Dodgers fans. They carefully followed the 1947 season, when Jackie Robinson became the first African American professional baseball player and the new star of their beloved team. Steve is Jackie's biggest fan and his excitement is not to be imagined when the 1947 Rookie of the Year, Robinson, moves with his wife and young son just two doors down. He and his family become friends with the Robinson's and Jackie becomes a mentor to Steve, showing him how to control his temper. A birthday gift of Dodgers tickets for Steve's whole class seals the deal that they are friends forever. A misunderstanding over a Christmas Tree being gifted from the Robinson's to Steve's observant Jewish household brings tension to the friendship, but it is alleviated by tolerance and the sharing of cultures. Jackie and his family eventually move to Queens, but an afterwards by the author reveals to the reader the reality behind the story and that the friendship between the two families still continues to this day.
Robinson presents a very readable tale that is perfect for the target audience. The story remains linear and is easily followed. The struggles and prejudices experienced by Jackie and his family are certainly part of the story, but the book never gets preachy and it offers enough plot that kids will not feel as if they are being hit over the head with a message. Steve has struggles of his own and learns to control his impulses and righteous anger, much as Jackie learned to do over the years. There is enough baseball thrown in for sports lovers, enough mid-century Brooklyn for history lovers, and enough plot for story lovers. Jackie Robinson is an important American figure, who remained someone to emulate throughout his lifetime. This is a way for children to get to know this brave man of integrity and see that he is more than just a sports star. Beyond being exposed to the struggles of African Americans during the Civil Rights era, readers who may not be familiar with Jewish holidays and customs will also learn about this culture. Robinson includes a photo at the end of the book of Steve as a child and one of the two of them together today. This brings validity to the story and makes it that much more legitimate. Steve is very human, both in his passions and his shortcomings, and many children will relate to him as he lives out their dreams: living two doors down from a real-life hero.