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The undefeated
Book
2019
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Reviews

Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Alexander and Nelson combine their considerable talents in this ode to inspiring African American heroes in the fields of sport, the arts, and political activism, as well as everyday champions whose very survival exemplifies success. In elegiac-style verse, Alexander celebrates "the swift and sweet ones / who hurdled history . . . / the ones who survived / America / by any means necessary," and those "who shine / their light for the world to see / and don't stop / ‘til the break of dawn." Nelson's photo-realistic illustrations, rendered in oil, include action shots (Jesse Owens, mid hurdle), portraits (Martin Luther King Jr. and an African American Union soldier), composites (of jazz and sports greats), and iconographic compositions that depict the unspeakable (bodies lined up representing abducted Africans en route to America, part of the Middle Passage). Designed for reading aloud, the text also makes use of several typographic cues that signal meaning: emphasized words appear in larger font, while references to the words of others ("we shall not be moved") appear in italics. And, while the content references several tragic events (slavery and police brutality, among others), the poem closes with a hopeful nod to the rising generation. Appended with notes on the historical figures cited, this is a beautiful volume that encourages multiple viewings and further research. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With a lengthy roster of accolades and best-seller credits between them, this untouchable duo's book will fly off the shelf. Grades 3-6. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Performed first on the ESPN show of the same name, this magnificent anthem to the courage and genius of black Americans has been turned into a picture book with stunning portraits by Nelson (Blue Sky, White Stars). "This is for the unforgettable," Alexander (Out of Wonder) opens, "The swift and sweet ones/ who hurdled history/ and opened a world/ of possible." Jesse Owens flies across the page, every limb outstretched, every muscle taut. Alexander's praise is not just for well-known figures, though; he also writes about nameless heroes ("the ones who survived/ America/ by any means necessary") and unsung martyrs ("the ones who didn't"). And he acknowledges the deepest wounds, repeating the phrase "This is for the unspeakable" over successive portraits of infamous atrocities committed against Americans of African descent. He writes of artistry, "the We Real Cool ones," above the smiling, lit-up faces of vocal and instrumental artists who make up a celestial chorus: Monk and Fitzgerald, Vaughan and Davis. Nelson paints historical figures and contemporary heroes with equal ease and grace; in a final spread, the faces of young black girls and boys look ahead, beaming and determined: "This is for us." Throughout, incantatory usage of "un" words ("unbelievable... unbending... underdogs... uncertain...") rings with force. Alexander remembers peaceful Civil Rights activists, "the righteous marching ones who sang we shall not be moved because black lives matter," communicating clearly that when black lives matter, America is stronger. Historical notes for each figure conclude this powerful work. Ages 4–7. Author's agent: Arielle Eckstut, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. Illustrator's agent: Steven Malk, Writers House.(Apr.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 3 Up—This inaugural title from Newbery Medalist Alexander's new imprint is a poignant and powerful ode to the resilience and strength of black life and history in America. Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated in 2016, the poem adopts a picture book format with a new title, accompanied by stunning oil paintings in Nelson's trademark photorealistic style. The evocative illustrations stand out against stark white backgrounds and vary in their composition. On some spreads, the focus is on a single expressive portrait; others feature collages of African American icons from various disciplines, or refer to significant historical moments. The art functions in perfect harmony with the poet's spare, striking verse to electrify the Black American experience, and to celebrate black athletes, writers, musicians, activists, and heroes. From the unspeakable trauma of American slavery and the transatlantic slave trade to the brave service of black troops during the Civil War, from the fierce and unwavering fight for civil rights to the Black Lives Matter movement, from Selma to Birmingham to Harlem, this book is both a soaring tribute to the enduring perseverance and achievements of the past and a stirring call to action to "the dreamers and the doers" of the present and the future. Back matter includes an afterword from the author as well as additional information about the historical figures and events featured in the book. VERDICT Alexander and Nelson present an exceptionally moving and triumphant work. This book is an essential first purchase for all libraries. -Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal.

Author Biography

Kwame Alexander is the New York Times Bestselling author of 25 books, including Rebound, the critically acclaimed prequel to the 2015 Newbery Medal-winning The Crossover. The recipient of the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award, Kwame lives with his family in Virginia.

www.kwamealexander.com
Twitter: @kwamealexander
Instagram: @kwamealexander

Kadir Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor recipient. Among his other awards are an NAACP Image Award, and the 2009 and 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and The New Yorker. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

www.kadirnelson.com
Twitter: @kadirnelson
Instagram:@kadirnelson
 
- (Houghton)

Annotations

Presents an ode to black American triumph and tribulation. - (Baker & Taylor)

"The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree"-- - (Baker & Taylor)

"The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover celebrates black American heroism and culture in a picture-book rendering of his performance on ESPN's ""The Undefeated."" Illustrated by the Caldecott Honor-winning artist of Henry's Freedom Box. 75,000 first printing. Simultaneous eBook" - (Baker & Taylor)

Winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal
A 2020 Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

The Newbery Award-winning author of THE CROSSOVER pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.

Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world's greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.
 
- (Houghton)

The Newbery Medal-winning author of THE CROSSOVER pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.
- (Houghton)

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