From School Library Journal
Grade 2-6–This creative team's collaboration packs a powerful punch. Born in Alabama in 1914, Joseph Louis Barrow, grandson of slaves, grew up in a small farmhouse with no electricity or running water. His father was sent to a state hospital for the Colored Insane when the boy was two. In 1926, his mother remarried, and the family moved to Detroit. When he wasn't working or attending class, Joe would box with his friends. After one visit to a gym to see some real
boxers, he was hooked; he went on to win almost every fight on the amateur circuit. In 1934, Louis turned pro. Though early fights against whites were racially charged, perceptions shifted in '36 when he fought Max Schmeling, who represented Nazi Germany. Devastated when he lost this pivotal match, Louis won the rematch in '38, becoming the new world champion and a hero for all Americans. The author's notes mention the racist jungle images in early press coverage and that Schmeling saved children from the Nazis and later became friends with Louis. The action-packed acrylics capture the setting and emotions–Widener's signature muscular figures are particularly apt here. Expressive faces reveal a mother's grief at the sight of her bloodied, battered son; the ring announcer's concern about public reaction to the 1935 mixed-race fight between Louis and Primo Carnera, and more. Pair this title with Tonya Bolden's The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali
(Knopf, 2004) for a knockout unit on African-American sports heroes.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 2-4. In Adler and Widener's latest picture-book biography, forceful text and pictures tell how Louis, the grandson of slaves, found his niche in what he termed a "no-place-to-go world." Both contributors play down the controversial aspects of a sport that many believe glorifies violence, focusing instead on an underprivileged child's achievements through unstinting effort and avoiding graphic depictions of punches and injuries. Dominating the narrative are Louis' historic matches with Germany's Max Schmeling, events that spurred Americans to form an unprecedented united front in support of a black champion. Widener paints in his trademark muscular oils, reminiscent of WPA murals. Although this style beautifully captures his subject's grim determination and imposing physique, it also somewhat disconcertingly reflects the era's biases in depicting blacks with slightly caricatured facial features. Bulleted author's notes and a brief summary of sources conclude. For more pugilism in picture books, see Tonya Bolden and R. Gregory Christie's wilder The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali
(2004) or William Miller and Rodney S. Pate's fictional My Hero, Joe Louis
(2004). Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved