When Sharon Robinson, daughter of famed baseball player Jackie Robinson, wanted to teach kids about her father, she decided to work with illustrator Kadir Nelson on a children's book. But instead of focusing the book on the achievement for which her father is most famous — breaking baseball's color barrier — Sharon Robinson chose a more humble, personal moment.
As she explains to Steve Inskeep, the story she tells in Testing the Ice centers on the time her father — who could not swim — would walk out onto a frozen pond to make sure the ice was safe before allowing his children to go skating.
"He was very reluctant. He had to do something that was frightening even to him," Robinson recalls.
But her father needed to make sure the ice was safe for his three children and their friends, so he forced himself to confront his fears.
"[This story] so perfectly defines Jackie Robinson the athlete, Jackie Robinson the husband, the father, the loving, the courageous, the caring," she says. "I wanted children to understand the totality of this man and how consistent he was in both his public persona and his personal one."
Nelson, who illustrated the book, says he wanted readers to have a sense of the weight of Jackie Robinson on the ice, so he purposefully painted the scene from above.
"You're looking down on him, to build the suspense," he says.
Nelson's illustrations include scenes from throughout Jackie Robinson's life, including his meeting with Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who brought Robinson on board.
"I had done quite a bit of research on the Negro leagues and Jackie Robinson for another book that I had illustrated, so I was somewhat familiar with the scene, and it was important to understand that this was a partnership where both of them were equally involved in integrating baseball. They both had to be strong and resilient, and I really wanted to show that in the illustration," Nelson says.