Review by Kaila Johnson
Scholastic Press, 2019
Hardcover, 240 pages, $16.99 USD, 978-1-338-28280-1
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7
Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m turning thirteen. Which makes today—January 12, 1963—the very last day of me not being a teenager.
I stare at myself in the full-length mirror attached to my closet door. I see Dad’s smile and Mom’s eyes and nose. The gap between my front teeth is distinctly mine. So is being nearsighted. I squint at the rest of my reflection. The way my body has started to curve. The way my skin breaks out around my forehead. There’s a look of concern on my face.
Honestly, I’m worried about tomorrow. My older brother, Jackie Jr., started to rebel once he became a teenager. I assume this will happen to me next. Maybe it already has.
Standing up for what you believe in takes courage, especially at thirteen years old.
The day before she turns thirteen, Sharon Robinson watches the six o’clock news with her family and hears the words that change her world forever: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 gives a realistic account of what it means to be an activist as a young kid. This memoir follows Sharon, the daughter of color barrier-breaking baseball player Jackie Robinson, as she navigates systemic anti-Black racism in America while being a preteen.
Robinson gives readers a sense of how tuned into racism and the civil rights movement she is as the child of the National League’s first Black player, while also showing smaller moments that every thirteen-year old goes through — like fitting in at school and going to the school dance:
“Five hours later, I stroll into the gym as “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by the Beach Boys pulsates through large speakers. The normally bland gym is decked out in balloons and streamers. It’s not my favorite song, but it makes me smile.”
With the inclusion of photo inserts, the reader gains more insight into both Robinson’s childhood and what the civil rights movement looked like.
Robinson feels disconnected from the civil rights movement by being seemingly far away from the harsh treatment of Black people in the South. Because of this, she hesitates to bring up the microaggressions she has dealt with at school to her parents. But she still feels the effects of racism in her daily life:
“We live in the North, I think. There are no Jim Crow laws here. But I remember how terrible I felt at Hoyt Elementary School when kids who didn’t know me asked stupid and hurtful questions like: ‘Do you bathe?’ and ‘Why is your skin brown but the palm of your hands white?’”
And she takes action in her own way: through writing an essay for her social studies class about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s letter from a Birmingham jail and helping her family host fundraisers for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Through Robinson’s story, young readers will learn the history of anti-Black racism in America and that there is no wrong way to be an activist.
By intertwining her struggles as a teenager with her life as an activist, Robinson reminds readers of her vulnerability and the weight that racism unjustly places on children’s shoulders. Robinson also highlights intersectionality through the different experiences that she and her brother face:
“‘As a Black man, I feel that tension everywhere I go. I’m tired of being watched like a criminal. King’s right. The situation is urgent,’ Jackie says, slapping the rolled letter against his shin, then unrolling it and flipping through the pages.”
There was not a clear resolution to Robinson’s story, which is fitting. The fight against racism is ongoing. While Robinson does not reference today’s social justice movements by name, the sentiment of not giving up in the face of white supremacy is threaded throughout the memoir.
“‘A tragedy that has left us with two choices. We can give up in defeat. Or we can use our anger and sorrow to keep fighting against hatred. I intend to fight,’ Dad says.”
This memoir highlights the importance of speaking up for yourself to help create change, regardless of how young you are or far away an issue may seem.
Kaila Johnson is a creative writing BFA student and has contributed to UBC’s student newspaper The Ubyssey for the past three years. She loves creating stories centred around identity and community. When they’re not writing, she can be found painting, watching reality television, or saying hello to an animal nearby.