CHAMPION by Jim Haskins


The Story of Muhammad Ali
by & illustrated by
Age Range: 6 - 10
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On the heels of the film, a new picture-book biography of the boxing powerhouse accorded the title of “Athlete of the Century.” Simple declarative sentences take the reader from Cassius Clay’s youth in Louisville through his boxing career and conversion to the Nation of Islam, to his draft-dodging accusation, political activism, and subsequent comeback. This style becomes increasingly ponderous, and although Haskins (One Love, One Heart, not reviewed, etc.) includes some of Ali’s boastful rhymes, they cannot lift this leaden text off the mat. Sentences such as, “Cassius got better and better at boxing. He was very fast. He had quick reflexes,” do nothing to capture the essence of the athleticism and brilliance that made Ali the Greatest. There is also an unfortunate tendency to oversimplify highly complex situations; for example, Ali’s legal victory is described thus: “Eventually the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, recognized Ali’s devotion to his faith and ruled that he had been treated unfairly. American citizens have the right to refuse military service because of their religion.” While the two statements are arguably true, they may lead young readers into believing that the decision in Ali’s case was in some way precedent-setting, though it was most carefully written not to be. Velasquez’s (Grandma’s Records, 2001, etc.) lush oils dominate the page in monumental fashion. They frequently appear as montages or in sequences of stop-action frames, for a truly cinematic effect. While many are spectacular in themselves, when combined with the frequently worshipful text, the result is hagiography. Both the magnetic, complex subject and young readers deserve better. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8027-8784-3
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2002


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