Nov 20, 2011
A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis
A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Back in college at Northwestern University, I took an amazing class titled "History and Anthropology of Sports." I grew up loving sports, watching all of them on TV and playing a couple of them as well. One sport I never had any interest in was boxing. And then I took that class...and read a biography on Joe Louis. During one of the weeks of school, I had to read two books: one on Joe Louis and one on soccer (my favorite sport). Well, I was so mesmerized by this boxer that I only discussed one book during the class meeting. My professor, who was my mentor and knew me well, couldn't believe I didn't even made a single reference to the soccer book. That's how amazing Joe Louis' story was. Needless to say, I was thrilled to find a new picture book about him.
A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis tells us about his beginnings as a child ridiculed for his stuttering. "Words spinning just beyond Joe's grasp, and with black skin he passed through childhood in shadows." We learn about his trips to the gym, learning how to box and "slowly stepping out of the shadows." He found a new home "between the ropes." Knowing that back then, as a black man, he would not win fights by a decision, Joe Louis had knock them all down. The book focuses on the most important fight Louis ever fought against the German Max Schmeling. That fight was about more than a world title, it was a battle between America and Nazi Germany, and all of the US, white and black, united to see Joe Louis defeat the German.
As I was reading A Nation's Hope, I couldn't help but think that the writing by Matt de la Peña flowed as smoothly as a boxer dancing in the ring. The illustrations by Kadir Nelson are nothing short stunning (the portrait of Joe Louis as young man, with his hands resting between his legs is hauntingly beautiful). Nelson plays with angles and perspectives that ad dynamic movement, as if our eyes are moving around the ring, following the boxers' feet. Gorgeous biography of an amazing man.