Day 22: Sharon Robinson

Photo Credit: John Vecchiolla

If Sharon Robinson hasn’t done it all, she’s certainly made sizable progress.

Robinson began with a 20-year career as a nurse midwife and educator, teaching at universities such as Howard, Yale, Columbia, and Georgetown. She directed the PUSH for Excellence program, founded by Jesse Jackson, from 1985 to 1990. She worked as a fund-raiser for both The United Negro College Fund and A Better Chance organizations.

Robinson is currently Vice Chairman of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and serves on numerous boards: the Roberto Clemente Sports City Complex in Carolina, Puerto Rico; Metropolitan Opera; Urban America; and Omnicom Diversity Committee. She is also an educational consultant for Major League Baseball, where she oversees school and community-based educational programs. And she has written several delightful stories for children, including the middle grade titles, Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America, Safe at Home and Slam Dunk!

Whew.

On Day 22, we welcome the remarkable Sharon Robinson.

 

The Journey

My journey into the world of children’s book publishing started with a childhood love for books…and a locked diary. That love for books and writing grew in my adult years. My first publications were professional. While on the nurse-midwifery faculty at Georgetown University, we published a women’s health text book.

My first major market book was a memoir which took me years to write, and equally long to get published. I started writing that book with a pen and a legal pad. I didn’t even know how to use a computer. After filling several legal pads, I bought my first computer and launched a writing career.

1997 was a pivotal year: My son graduated from high school. My memoir was published. I retired from a twenty-year career as a nurse-midwife, and launched a new career (and educational program) with Major League Baseball. A passion for children’s publishing began with the Breaking Barriers program and a partnership with Scholastic. My first children’s book, Jackie’s Nine, was released in 2001. Ten years later, I’ve now published seven children’s fiction and nonfiction books. A couple more are in various stages of publication. I carry several in my head at all times.

 

The Inspiration

My inspirations are fluid. I spend a lot of time in schools and listen intently to the conversations of young children everywhere I go. My granddaughter, Jessica, was born last year. She’s my latest inspiration.  You can expect a whole series of books for little girls out of me in the coming years!

My father’s story has inspired several books. I have my favorites:  Promises To Keep:  How Jackie Robinson Changed America (Scholastic) and Testing the Ice: A true story about Jackie Robinson (Scholastic).  While they were both labors of love, Testing the Ice tops the charts. It’s all because of Kadir Nelson.

Kadir and I went into Scholastic as a team. Over the years, we had worked together on smaller projects and spent lots of time chatting during various joint book signings. I was determined that Kadir illustrate Testing the Ice.  It’s a powerful story, one I felt totally comfortable being in Kadir’s hands. I’m always blown away by Kadir’s art. My mother and I were speechless at the unveiling of the artwork.

       

The Back Story

My most recent publication is Jackie’s Gift with EB Lewis.  I met EB at a children’s book festival in Connecticut.  After meeting me, he told me that he’d read my father had given a Jewish kid a Christmas tree. He asked me if the story was true, and said that it would be a great children’s book.  The next I did the research, searching for layers to the story behind a favorite childhood family tale. Two years later, Jackie’s Gift was published.

 

The Buzz on TESTING THE ICE

Kirkus

“This fond daughter’s reminiscence is a welcome addition to the life story of one of America’s best-known athletes and civil-rights advocates.”

 Publishers Weekly

“Nelson…contributes sumptuous, cinematic paintings that immerse readers in every scene, whether it’s an eye-to-eye meeting with Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey or an idyllic summer afternoon at the family home. Readers will close the book understanding that there are many ways to be hero—and Robinson had all the bases covered.”

New York Times Book Review

“Jackie Robinson’s daughter builds a charming story around a childhood memory…Nelson’s close-ups expertly provides suspense…With the basics of his biography efficiently woven in, this is a lovely introduction to a baseball legend.”

The Chicago Tribune

“Nelson’s illustrations are intensely dramatic…Robinson ripples in action across the double-paged spreads. His courage appears before us in pictures and words. The story will be moving to parents and to children.”

 

The Buzz on PROMISES TO KEEP

Booklist, starred review

“There are numerous biographies about Robinson available for young people, but none have this book’s advantage of family intimacy. In a personal account, Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, describes her father’s youth, his rise to become major-league baseball’s first African American player, and his involvement in the civil rights movement. Sharon Robinson is an education executive for major-league baseball, and she writes about the sport and her father’s life with the same immediate familiarity. It’s her seamless blend of history and family story, though, that distinguishes this title. Through particular events in her father’s life, the author makes the realities of a segregated society immediate: when her father first showed up for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ spring training, for example, he was housed and fed separately from his white teammates. She also includes photographs of racially motivated death threats sent to the Robinson home. Robinson’s emphasis on her parents’ strong values reiterates some of the material in her previous title for youth, Jackie’s Nine (2001), but her private view of her father’s accomplishments, placed within the context of American sports and social history, makes for absorbing reading. An excellent selection of family and team photographs and other materials, including her parents’ love letters in their own handwriting, illustrate this fine tribute.”

School Library Journal

“In captivating words and pictures, Robinson chronicles the life of her legendary father. She weaves historical events into the story of one of baseball’s greatest players, revealing how they shaped his life. Her text, combined with numerous black-and-white archival and family photographs, reproductions of newspaper headlines, magazine pages, and letters, illustrates Jackie Robinson’s journey from childhood to the moment that he integrated major league baseball to his life as a businessman and civil rights spokesperson. In addition to personal details, this intimate biographical sketch and authentic glimpse into the life of a great African American provides information on the post-Civil War world, race relations, and the struggle for civil rights. It will inspire readers and enhance character-education units. Pair this first purchase with the author’s Jackie’s Nine: Jackie Robinson’s Values to Live By (Scholastic, 2001).

 

The State of the Industry

Thankfully, parents and grandparents want their children to experience actual books! As the industry changes, I expect children and their parents will adapt to the ebook world while continuing to embrace books.

Authors of color are still challenged to get their work out there, but I remember the days when the selection was grossly limited.  We have to be creative.  That’s why The Brown Bookshelf is so important!

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2 Responses to Day 22: Sharon Robinson

  1. Ms. Yingling says:

    My students LOVE Slam Dunk and Safe at Home. Write some more sports books for the middle grades– I always need more basketball ones! Thanks for the great interview.

  2. tadmack says:

    Ooh, wow. I remember Testing the Ice especially of Sharon Robinson’s works — and feeling what a powerful story that was — who knew it was written by a woman once a midwife? You know what I want (if we all get to put in our orders from this author)? A YA novels about the magic and the mystery of birth — a novel featuring young folk of color and birth and babies for once from a positive point of view.

    I believe that Sharon Robinson is magical. A midwife who brought children and now books into the world? Bring on more!

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