Booklist starred (February 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 11))
Grades 1-3. Sometimes a boxing match is just that, a sport played out on the fists and jaws of two determined contenders. But sometimes it is so much more, as in the 1938 bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. This spectacularly illustrated, smoothly cadenced picture book sets up the historic fight—“Son of a black sharecropper / against Hitler’s ‘master race’ / Black and white Americans / together against the rule of Nazi hate”—and then quickly traces Louis’ rise from a quiet boy in Jim Crow America to a magnificent fighter and national hero. Nelson, who’s incapable of even a mediocre painting, flexes his artistic muscle here, varying his always effective blue-sky-backed, leveled-gaze portraits with dizzying and dramatic angles, both in and out of the ring. The full weight of the fight’s import may need some additional historical context for young readers, but the message rings through in any case: that this was a unifying and triumphant moment of national pride, for all Americans, and that sports can capture people’s hearts for more reasons than just winning.