We recently had the opportunity to speak with award-winning author Doreen Rappaport, whose books are known for celebrating multiculturalism, retelling folktales and myths, combining historical facts with intimate storytelling and finding new ways to present the lives of world leaders. We asked specifically about her newest nonfiction title, 42 is Not Just a Number, as well as her research process and her advice for teachers who use her work in the classroom. Here’s what she had to say.

Q&A with Doreen Rappaport: 42 Is Just a NumberYour work includes a great mix of well-known and more obscure subjects, which is wonderful. What inspired you to write about the popular athlete, Jackie Robinson?

There are so many reasons I wanted to write about Jackie Robinson. One reason was that I was a devout Dodger and Jackie fan and my research would let me relive “my life” with Jackie when I was young. The more important reason was that Jackie Robinson is a true American hero.  He forged change for millions of black Americans and helped white Americans learn something about prejudice and courage.  He truly was a one-person civil rights movement.  

In your book, you mention Robinson’s temper and his efforts to keep it under control at numerous points in his life. Many other biographies present him as constantly even tempered and seldom ruffled. How do you think this aspect of his personality impacted the story you wanted to tell and what made you choose to include it?

Jackie Robinson never denied that he had a temper, that he had a short fuse. In more recent biographies, writers such as Arnold Rampersad illuminated this side of Jackie’s personality. Knowing this about Jackie is crucial for kids. It shows what strength he had. It shows how hard he worked, how he kept his “eye on the prize,” how he understood the important of controlling his temper because there was so much to be gained by his remaining “unruffled” in the face of so much hostility and ugliness. This I believe is a life lesson for all of us.

How were you affected by the research and writing process involved in telling this story?

Reading about Jackie’s mother  integrity, and resilience, the love of his family and his wife, Rachel, his support from Wendell Smith, reminded me that No One does it alone. Jackie took the brunt of the hostility, but the love and support from others in his life gave him the sustenance to face the challenge of integrating major league baseball.

What was your research process like for this project? Did you discover any surprising or favorite facts about Jackie Robinson’s experiences?

I read many biographies about Jackie and that first year in major league baseball. I followed up on footnotes in these books to get to primary sources. I read newspaper articles and had the most wonderful time at a baseball website that detailed every play in all that year’s game.

I never knew how difficult Jackie’s early life was.

Do you have any advice for teachers who want to use your book in the classroom? Or any advice for young researchers starting their own projects?

It would be great to compare Jackie’s journey with the journeys of other black Americans like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Elizabeth Eckford. How did they overcome racism? Who helped them along the way? 

Do you have any other favorite nonfiction authors? Is there something in particular that draws you to their work?

Children’s historical nonfiction today is blessed with so many great, thoughtful writers whose research is impeccable. And there are so many different styles of writing and books for all ages. My list is endless: Jonah Winter, Melissa Sweet, Candace Fleming, Carole Boston Weatherford, the McKissacks, Tanya Lee Stone, Tanya Bolden, Russell Friedman.

Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about you and your process. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I write history because it’s  crucial for kids to know the past, to see the energy and commitment expended by so many Americans who struggled and still struggle to make this country live up to its ideals.

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