Tag Archives: greatest

Float Like A Butterfly by Ntozake Shange illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

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This 40 page biography beautifully presents major events of the famous boxer’s life without going in to much explanation. While it is an AR 4.7, it is still a picture book, and might work better for younger kids with some conversation and context, than for middle grade readers looking for anything in-depth about the beloved hero. While following his life, the reader sees him as a child growing up before he becomes famous, and sees that even after he retires, he is so much more than just a boxer, he is a compassionate leader, icon, and humanitarian.

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Born in Louisville, Kentucky in the Pre-Civil Rights South as Cassius Clay, he struggled to understand why there was only a white superman, and questioned if heaven was divided up by color and income like Smoketown.

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Cassius loved the power of words and would help his father make rhymes as a sign painter. When his bike gets stolen he is motivated to learn to fight so that nothing else is ever taken from him and his. He may not be the colored superman, but he is determined to be lightening fast and have fists that fly.

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In 1960 at age 18 he won Olympic Gold. In 1964 he converted/reverted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali days after becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World. His titles were stripped from him, however, when he refused to fight in Vietnam.

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Years later in 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his convictions for not fighting and in 1974 he reclaimed his title by beating George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle.” In 1981 after winning, keeping and losing the title, Muhammad Ali retired from boxing for good.

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Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson’s disease but still donated his time, his money and himself. He believed in perseverance, and equality, and fought for what he believed in. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 74.

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This is an updated edition from the 2002 originally published book, it now includes his death. I wish it was more than a fleshed out timeline and showed him as a person, or what it was like to lose everything when standing up for something you believe in, or explained what some of his catch phrases meant, or really just as a more high energy celebration of his life.

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Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali by Isabel Sanchez Vegara illustrated by Brosmind

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Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali by Isabel Sanchez Vegara illustrated by Brosmind

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A few things surprised me in this latest addition to the non fiction biography series Little People, Big Dreams. First that a police officer told him to learn how to fight if he wanted to face the thief that stole his bike.  Second, that the 32 page book targeting 5 to 8 year old children has an AR level of 4.8 and finally that it does mention his conversion to Islam and shows him praying.

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The biography hits a lot of major milestones in the boxer’s life after showing he once was a little kid too.  He was born in Kentucky, had a younger brother and after his bicycle was stolen he started learning how to box.  He wasn’t the strongest fighter, but he was fast.

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He won a gold medal at the Olympics in Rome, and then set his sights on being a professional boxer and becoming the world heavyweight champion.  Its nice that on this page the illustrations show that part of that pursuit involved physical training but the books and meditation show internal growth was valued and pursued as well.

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It shows how he used to taunt his opponents and that some thought it poetry, while other’s thrash talk. It also makes it clear that he used his voice to speak out for things important to him at a time when it was dangerous and accepted the consequences, whether it was African American rights or the war.

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The page about him becoming Muslim explains that he was inspired by Islam, changed his name and “felt strong and proud to be himself.”  After his ban from boxing, he won the heavyweight belt three times before retiring and dedicating his life to community and giving back.

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The book ends with a timeline and some real pictures of Muhammad Ali, along with some other books you can turn to for more information.  The illustrations are comical yet detailed in their emotion and the information that is conveyed.  Kids will enjoy them and find they give life to the simple text on the pages.

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I got my copy from the library and my children aged 4-12 enjoyed the book as they have the other books in the series.

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