CHAMPION

THE STORY OF MUHAMMAD ALI

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 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8027-8784-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering.

THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH

An honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.

Published while the United States has its first African-American president, this story of John Roy Lynch, the first African-American speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lays bare the long and arduous path black Americans have walked to obtain equality. The title’s first three words—“The Amazing Age”—emphasize how many more freedoms African-Americans had during Reconstruction than for decades afterward. Barton and Tate do not shy away from honest depictions of slavery, floggings, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, or the various means of intimidation that whites employed to prevent blacks from voting and living lives equal to those of whites. Like President Barack Obama, Lynch was of biracial descent; born to an enslaved mother and an Irish father, he did not know hard labor until his slave mistress asked him a question that he answered honestly. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch had a long and varied career that points to his resilience and perseverance. Tate’s bright watercolor illustrations often belie the harshness of what takes place within them; though this sometimes creates a visual conflict, it may also make the book more palatable for young readers unaware of the violence African-Americans have suffered than fully graphic images would. A historical note, timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, bibliography and map are appended.

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering. (Picture book biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0

Page Count: 50

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape.

RAFI AND ROSI MUSIC!

From the Rafi and Rosi series

The fourth installment in Delacre’s early-reader series centers on the rich musical traditions of Puerto Rico, once again featuring sibling tree frogs Rafi and Rosi Coquí.

Readers learn along with Rafi and Rosi as they explore bomba, plena, and salsa in three chapters. A glossary at the beginning sets readers up well to understand the Spanish vocabulary, including accurate phoneticization for non-Spanish speakers. The stories focus on Rafi and Rosi’s relationship within a musical context. For example, in one chapter Rafi finds out that he attracts a larger audience playing his homemade güiro with Rosi’s help even though he initially excluded her: “Big brothers only.” Even when he makes mistakes, as the older brother, Rafi consoles Rosi when she is embarrassed or angry at him. In each instance, their shared joy for music and dance ultimately shines through any upsets—a valuable reflection of unity. Informational backmatter and author’s sources are extensive. Undoubtedly these will help teachers, librarians, and parents to develop Puerto Rican cultural programs, curriculum, or home activities to extend young readers’ learning. The inclusion of instructions to make one’s own homemade güiro is a thoughtful addition. The Spanish translation, also by Delacre and published simultaneously, will require a more advanced reader than the English one to recognize and comprehend contractions (“pa’bajo-pa-pa’rriba”) and relatively sophisticated vocabulary.

A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape. (Early reader. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-89239-429-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Children's Book Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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