The Undefeated

(3 reviews with an average rating of 4 out of 5)

Publisher: Andersen press

An illustrated poem, written to commemorate the birth of Alexander’s daughter and the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008, The Undefeated remembers unforgettable, unafraid and unbowed, famous and overlooked figures from black history: from Jesse Owens, whose Olympic victories helped shatter the myth of white supremacy in the 1930s and first billionaire in NBA history Michael Jordan, to Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carole Denise McNair, killed in a racially motivated bombing in 1963 - and to the hundreds of thousands of black soldiers that fought in the American Civil War.

Kadir Nelson’s painted portraits of all the undefeated people in this book (and it is a book focused on black American culture rather than UK or elsewhere) - families, protestors linking arms, famous faces - stare out at the reader, demanding our attention, our love and our respect. Three double page spreads in particular, where Nelson depicts “the unspeakable” make the reader stop and take a jagged breath or two: the imagery and the rhythm of those pages really convey the grief and anger at the terrible injustices that have been visited on black lives.

The book finishes on a hopeful note, so, while this is a book that would be best read with an adult who can give context to a young reader, and talk through the history and continuing presence of racism, it is ultimately a book about survival and remembrance.

There’s also a very informative series of biographical information at the back of the book for kids who want to research more, and for adults who can use it to help explain in a bit more detail.

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