Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (Biography Picture Book)

Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

A picture book that introduces a new generation to the amazing, inspiring story of Joe Louis.

Matt de la Peña and Kadir Nelson have crafted a beautiful biography of the African-American boxer Joe Louis. The story weaves Louis' 1938 fight against German (and devote Nazi party member) Max Schmeling, and the young Louis' struggle in a very segregated America. This poetic telling of a physically and emotionally powerful individual is a book that must be shared with young students of all ages! 

In his formative years, Joe was ridiculed for his stutter. Words seemed to allude him. All that Joe had was his massive, powerful hands. His mother that this was a sign that he should play music. However, when she sent him to his first violin lesson, he skipped out and went to the gym next door. Destiny takes him by the hand. 

He returned day after day to the gym; his mother still thinking he was learning the violin. Joe's first times in the ring were not successful. Knocked down, beaten, and bruised, he kept coming back day after day. The other boxers at the gym became his mentors. Joe, when he became a professional boxer, was quite the sportsman. Although he might have knocked them out, he would help the opponent up and shake their hand. 

The book takes dead aim at history. Joe became a hero of the black community when he was fighting other Americans. Although Schmeling gave Louis his first professional loss in 1936, a rematch would united all (both black and white) America. On a June night in 1938, Joe Louis would stand to represent what all of America was feeling about the horrors happening in Europe. 

My current roommate, who is currently studying secondary English education, is hoping to use this picture book to introduce a lesson. At the high school level? YES! It can work. It is a wonderful way to introduce students to a piece of our twentieth century history that is often overlooked. 

If Kadir Nelson doesn't win the Caldecott Medal for this masterful picture book, I will be forced to go in the ring with the judging committee! (He was a previous Caldecott Honor winner...but this is his year!)

Boxing Legend Joe Louis!

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