Based on real-life events, The Hero Two Doors Down is the story of the friendship between Jackie Robinson and a Jewish boy who lived on his block in Brooklyn.
Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, has written an early chapter book about the friendship between her father and a white Jewish boy who lived down the block from him in East Flatbush. It’s based on a true story, and Steve Satlow, the boy featured in the book, had input into the story line. Having just seen interviews with the vivacious Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, in the new documentary JACKIE ROBINSON, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a hand in recalling some of the anecdotes as well. There’s a surprise visit with some baseball greats at the opening day game at Ebbets Field; there’s a Christmas tree mix-up before the Robinsons realize that the Satlows don’t celebrate the holiday; and there are many everyday moments of enjoyment shared by the two families from different worlds. The most compelling part of the book comes early on when Steve is pretty sure that the African American family moving into the house down the block will be Jackie Robinson’s. All third grade readers can guess the outcome, but they still revel in delicious anticipation of the foreseen event.
Brookyn in the 1940’s comes to life, as does the allegiance to the Dodgers and the primacy of radio in The Hero Two Doors Down. Race relations are tackled as the Satlows explain to their son why they won’t be signing the neighborhood petition barring an African-American family from the block and also in answer to many of young Steve’s questions about life on the road and on the field for Jackie. I think these are important topics for kids to know about–especially in this day and age. But my issue is that the adults speak in long paragraphs explicating the history, and it doesn’t sound like a naturalistic conversation at all. The two-word rejoinders of “Sure, son” or “Say, Dad” are presumably intended to make the conversation feel more realistic. But for me, they didn’t have that effect.
I would like to put in a good word for the two part 4 hour Jackie Robinson documentary by Sarah Burns and David McMahon. The film is scrupulously researched and achieves its goal of exploring Jackie Robinson as a three dimensional person whose life as an African American in uncharted territory extended beyond his firsts in baseball. He was more outspoken about white oppression than has been written down in children’s books. He participated actively in the Civil Rights movement, and after his baseball career ended, he co-founded the Freedom National Bank in Harlem, the largest black-owned and black-run financial institution at that time. The historical footage in JACKIE ROBINSON is riveting and the commentary by his 90+ year old wife is awe-inspiring.