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Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson Hardcover – June 22, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2010: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Jack Johnson becoming the first black man to win the World Heavyweight Championship on July 4, 1910, award-winning author Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrator Shane W. Evans have teamed up to create the powerful and poignant Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson which chronicles Johnson’s life, from early on as the child of two former slaves to his crowning achievement. In capturing Johnson’s battles in and out of the ring, the authors relay one of life’s most important messages: never give up on your dreams, no matter what barriers stand in your way.

A Look Inside Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson
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Black Jack was a brave man Black Jack chases Tommy Burns
Jack vs. Tommy in the ring Jack knocks the champ down

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 2-5 Art and text work powerfully together to tell the story of the first African-American heavyweight champion. Smith begins by telling readers that Black Jack was his OWN man. These bold words skillfully set the tone for the tale of how a shy, fearful young man learned to fight back and become one of history's more compelling personalities. Books play a role in the young man's development biographies of Napoleon and Isaac Murphy (an African-American jockey) inspired Johnson to become a great man himself. Smith's brisk, rhythmic text captures the boxer's energy and vigor. For example, But what Jack wanted most/was to be a great man/so he challenged the times./But it was Jack who was challenged/when he faced the color line. Evans's illustrations perfectly complement the text, using bold colors and strong brushstrokes to convey the athlete's larger-than-life personality. An endnote entitled And Then What Happened? provides an overview of the rest of Johnson's life. This book is sure to be championed by reluctant readers with energy and restlessness just like Johnson's, but it is a strong selection for library and classroom read-alouds as well. Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 2 - 6 years
  • Lexile Measure: 980L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press; First Edition edition (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596434732
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596434738
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.5 x 11.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,702,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning children's book author, photographer and poet with over thirty books to his credit. His awards include a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration for his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem, "My People" and a Coretta Scott King Honor Author Award for his biography on Muhammad Ali, "Twelve Rounds to Glory." Many of his books have also garnered reluctant reader awards, proving that kids that don't like to read, do like to read his books.

Charles combines his passions of writing and photography with a variety of subjects that spark his interest. Even though his early books such as "Rimshots", "Hoop Kings" and "Hoop Queens focus on basketball, Charles has shown the ability to apply his talents to a variety of subjects, including diversity with "I Am America" and "I Am the World", Greek mythology with "The Mighty 12", how slaves built the White House with "Brick by Brick" and Negro League baseball with "Stars in the Shadows" to name a few. His poetry has also been used to paint unique biographical portraits of personal heroes such as the aforementioned Ali, boxer Jack Johnson and soon, guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Of the distinctive niche Charles fills with his books, he notes, "I want to show students, particularly boys, that there are many ways to pursue their interests, no matter what they may be."

To hear excerpts from his books and learn more about Charles R. Smith Jr, visit his website at

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pam - mom-ish since 2000 TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Black Jack was a BRAVE man.
Black Jack was a STRONG man.
Black Jack was a Brave, Strong, FIGHTIN' man.
But mostly, Black Jack was his
OWN man.

Black Jack was born in 1878 in Texas. His name was Arthur John Johnson and his parents were freed slaves who taught him pride and gave him the will to better himself. He worked all sorts of jobs to make a living, but what suited him was boxing. He became a good boxer, a great boxer with the style. And he set his sites on the Boxing Championship, but there was only one problem. The white boxers wouldn't fight him.

This book personalizes bigotry and prejudice in a tangible way that children can understand. It portrays Black Jack in a positive light, and then throws what seems to be insurmountable adversity in his way. Leaving prejudice aside, it gives children an example of what it means to want to succeed badly enough that you'll fight long and hard for it. And rewards them by showing them how Black Jack fought 'the system' and made the world rethink it's old way of doing things and thinking about people... when he became the World's First Black Heavyweight Champion.

[Children will, of course, need to be reminded that his victory was only a piece of the forces that worked together to create change and that the change took a long time.]

Great artwork. It's accessible and interesting.

I never could quite get the hang of Charles Smith Jr's prose, but it didn't really matter. He conjured up a great story and clearly made his points.

I read this book to my 8 and 10 year-old children. I think it could be read to much younger children, who even if they don't understand prejudice yet, can understand that the idea of working for what you want.

Would be a great addition to a history unit.

AR 5.3

Pam T~
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By Captain Midnight on January 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Yes Jack Johnson was a great fighter. However, the oft-told myth that Canada's Tommy Burns was somehow afraid of the bigger man is here paraded again. Burns, who had an ego as big as his fighter's heart, feared no man, even Big Jim Jeffries, who even Johnson had a healthy respect for. Tommy was a showman, the first heavyweight champion to manage his own affairs, he was well aware of the value of the heavyweight title and was intent on being well-paid for defending it. He saw Johnson as someone he could beat and someone who would help make him very wealthy. This book tends to downgrade the man who was willing to defy the racist US sporting press and give a coloured man a shot at the greatest prize in sports.
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