There is always Jackie Robinson.
In an era when truly esteemed sports role models are few and far between, surrounded by the likes of fallen heroes Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong, sports fans can always remind themselves that Jackie Robinson, by all accounts one of the most decent, genuine men to ever walk the earth, was a hero.
A true sports hero - on and off the baseball diamond.
Tania Grossinger's new children's book, Jackie and Me, gently reminds us of that, using simple children's prose to weave a heartwarming story around her own experience with the baseball legend.
The author's tale draws from deeply personal roots, bringing her own experience with Robinson to the fore. Grossinger grew up at Grossinger's Hotel in the Catskills in the 1950s, when it was the leading resort getaway of New York's Jewish elite, and former a child-to-mentor bond with Robinson during his frequent visits to the property.
But it is hardly the swan song biography of a gadfly; instead, it deftly uses her experience with Robinson to show kids - often struggling kids - that there is a better world out there waiting for them. Perhaps Jackie Robinson himself will not lead them to it – but it is out there nonetheless.
Indeed, despite Robinson's larger than life stature, which might threaten to make the text un-relatable to every child, the book's simple prose and Grossinger's un-shirking inclusion of references to her own feelings of young vulnerability in its pages both infuse it with a sense of realism that deeply resonates with the reader.
Jackie Robinson in uniform for the Kansas City Monarchs. Photo Courtesy By Wikipedia.org
The book's release subtly ties with the upcoming movie, 42, which features a young Robinson courageously breaking into the big leagues and forever changing Major League Baseball. The movie centers on Robinson's own challenges overcoming segregation and racial hatred; showing how Robinson came to realize that the path to acceptance was through non-violent, courageous, empathy rather than angry rejection or giving up.
Indeed, any reader of the book and viewer of the movie is left wondering whether Robinson's lessons from his early days primarily contributed to his ability to become the leading gentleman and sportsman of his day – and a good friend to young Tania.
Regardless, Robinson certainly overcame his demons. And, for her part, Grossinger's book reminds us that we can too and, while we feel often feel surrounded by fallen angels, there was once a real angel in the outfield.
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