Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Breakthrough to the Big League: The Story of Jackie Robinson, John Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson and cowriter Alfred Duckett use the art of storytelling to reflect upon Robinson’s early life and subsequent triumph as the first African American to play major league baseball. In twelve precise, colorful chapters, the authors chronicle the life of an African American growing up in the United States before World War II. The book not only serves as an autobiography but also examines the pressure that nonwhite athletes have experienced while attempting to perform on an equal basis in professional sports. The work documents Robinson’s remembrances of his early life in Cairo, Georgia, the departure of his father, and his mother’s flight to Southern California in search of a better life for her family.

Each of the book’s twelve chapters builds on Robinson’s journey from poverty in Georgia, and the autobiography concludes with his retirement from the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. In other chapters, the reader follows Robinson as a star athlete at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), rejoices with him for his successful courtship of Rachel, agonizes with him as he tries to make a living in the Negro Leagues, and celebrates with him as he tears down the color line and becomes a player in the major leagues. Throughout the narrative, the authors have included twenty-one photographs of significant events and people in Robinson’s life, including the Robinson family at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Robinson as an all-around athlete at UCLA, Dodger owner Branch Rickey, the Montreal Royals, and Robinson’s first home run for the Dodgers.

The events that are described in the book are taken from the remembrances of Robinson, his teammates, and his friends and are documented through newspapers, newsreels, and baseball statistical records. Breakthrough to the Big League is also a record of a pivotal period in the history of major league baseball. The authors discuss the reactions of other major league players to Robinson’s arrival as their equal on the baseball diamond—the attitudes of his teammates, his own response to being the only African American in the major leagues, and the hostility of the opposing players. The book also examines the significant role that Rachel Robinson, his wife, played in his success as a ballplayer.