Baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the sport’s major league, is well known for breaking the color barrier—but less so for his behind-the-scenes role as a civil rights activist who encouraged his children to foster their own relationship to the burgeoning movement for equality.
Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 (Scholastic, Sept. 3) is his daughter Sharon Robinson’s vividly rendered middle-grade narrative inspired by the family’s curation of her father’s personal effects for the opening of the Jackie Robinson Museum in New York, named in his honor and scheduled to open in December 2019. (Jan. 31marked what would have been Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday.) In a recent interview, Robinson says “it was a shift, certainly,” for her to transition from writing fiction to writing memoir, because she had to shift her perspective on herself in order to write it.
The book—which took two years to write—centers on the Robinson family’s respect for and support of the oft-overlooked Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama, during May 1963. Civil rights leaders in the city put thousands of their youngest citizens in the spotlight to showcase their courage and were met with fire hoses, police dogs, and jail. Child of the Dream details how Sharon and her brothers, David and Jackie Jr., raised money to send to the children by way of jazz concerts in Stamford, Connecticut, where they were living. The book alsofeatures rare, intimate photographs of the Robinson family.
“We always had the public in on some of the great moments and some of the most painful moments of my life,” says Robinson. “My dad shared comfortably….The reason he shared comfortably, what I learned from him—many of our experiences can help other families. I grew up with that philosophy.”
Child of the Dream also gives us a front-row seat to the Aug. 28 March on Washington, where Jackie Robinson Sr. addressed the crowd.
“Luckily, it was a time period I was excited to go back to,” Robinson says. “I knew my father went down South, but I didn’t know when he started working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference instead of the NAACP. My motivation for writing this book is because I wanted to write about the Children’s March. My editor at Scholastic talked me into combining it with a memoir. It was the right way to go.”
More than 56 years ago, Robinson adds, the conversation about busing had already begun in Stamford. “It was fascinating to look back” for a host of reasons, she says. “The hard years were actually in front of us. My brother [Jackie Jr.] was acting out—he ran away but he came back.” As is often the case in memoir, Robinson says she was able to see her young self with more compassionate eyes. “I found a certificate I received in eighth grade social studies. I was a very shy girl, not distinguished in any way; I didn’t want to be acknowledged, let alone distinguished. It was huge to see that I was starting to flourish. I didn’t remember that before.”
Robinson says that today’s generation reminds her of her young self. When she visits young people in classrooms, learning about their lives, she says she is inspired by their “lifting their voices and creating their own fundraisers. I wanted to share that that is a value our family shared. I love that I can go back to a personal story but it’s a contemporary problem. We’ve been through this before. We do make progress.”
Joshunda Sanders is the author of the children’s book I Can Write the World. Child of the Dream received a starred review in the June 15, 2019, issue.