When Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in 1938, the bout was for more than the heavyweight title; it was the coming together of Black and White America against Nazi oppression. While in reality neither man was comfortable with such a weight of history on his shoulders, and Schmeling was not a member of the Nazi Party, this work portrays history more single-mindedly. Schmeling is simply "Hitler's German" or "the German," a stereotyped Other, while Louis is "a nation's hope," a symbol all of America rallied around. The story is related in poetic lines with quirky punctuation, an occasional clunky line and an overwrought extended metaphor about shadows: "Devastated, he covered his face leaving the ring / Shadows once again falling and the taste of failure ..." The eye-catching volume features Nelson's oils-on-wood paintings, at their best in close-up portraits and panoramic spreads. The brightly lit boxing ring with the shadows of a nighttime Yankee Stadium all around are breathtaking. No backmatter is included to expand upon a story that seems as perfunctory as the one-round match itself. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Nelson's (Mama Miti) photographically realistic, luminescent oil paintings bring to life this lyrical tribute to boxing legend Joe Louis. Focusing on Louis's 1938 rematch against German Max Schmeling, "Son of a black sharecropper/ against Hitler's ‘master race,' " de la Peña (We Were Here), in his first picture book, shows how the event unified a racially divided country for one evening, "white men hugging black men/ and black men hugging back." The story of the fight bookends a biography of Louis. Spare, evocative verse melds with the eloquent illustrations to create palpable energy around the fight and Louis's struggle to the top. "Black neighborhoods,/ longing for a hero to call their own, found Joe,/ and danced his every triumph in the streets." The accompanying spread shows fans cheering from rooftops and windows as Joe and his wife walk down a Harlem sidewalk. Another stunning scene features a closeup of two pairs of entangled red boxing gloves, with Louis's copper muscles bulging as he helps a white opponent to his feet. A dramatic introduction to a pugilist who symbolized many things for an entire country. Ages 6-8. (Jan.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 3-5--With stunning art and dramatic storytelling, Nelson and de la Peña recount the story behind the 1938 boxing match between American champ Joe Louis and "Hitler's German," Max Schmeling. As the nation edged closer to war, Joe Louis felt the weight of expectations on his shoulders, along with the aspirations of his race. He had already overcome obstacles: in childhood, he was ridiculed for his stammer: "words spinning just beyond/Joe's grasp." Salvation appeared at the boxing gym, where he worked tirelessly and "grew into his body," especially his oversize, strong hands. "Back then blacks didn't win decisions/Not against whites/Joe had to let his fists be the referees." He accumulated a string of wins and his fame grew, until Schmeling humiliated him in a stunning upset in 1936. Two years later, a rematch was scheduled in front of 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, while an even larger radio audience listened intently. Nelson's artful compositions, rendered in oil on wood, heighten the drama. Juxtaposing light and dark, the artist enlarges on the theme of Louis's "shadow boxing" career: from a "childhood in shadows," Joe gradually stepped out of the shadows until his momentous victory banished them. This well-crafted work brings this pivotal period in history to life; pair it with George Sullivan's Knockout: A Photobiography of Boxer Joe Louis (National Geographic, 2008) for the rest of his story, along with context and perspective.--Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA[Page 94]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.