Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis
written by Matt De La Pena; illustrated by Kadir Nelson
(Dial Books for Young Readers) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

There are some events and some broadcasts, some sporting activities, that reach out to millions of people and touch them in a very deep way. - Lewis Erenberg (The Fight of the Century: Louis vs. Schmeling: NPR 2006)

Joe Louis was a rising star in the heavyweight boxing division when he fought Max Schmeling for the first time in 1936. In a huge upset, the older Schmeling knocked out Louis in the 12th round. This was a crushing blow for Louis supporters. Many cried in the streets immediately after Joe's defeat. Being a German, Schmeling's victory was trumpeted by the Nazi propaganda machine. Louis was down, but certainly not out. He returned to the ring with renewed purpose and soon thereafter claimed the world heavyweight crown from James J. Braddock.  But Joe knew his work was not finished. In June of 1938, Louis met Schmeling for a second match in Yankee Stadium. This time, Joe Louis unleashed one of the most devastating displays of power in boxing history and knocked out Schmeling in the first round.

The 1938 rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling is one of the most important sporting, and perhaps historical, events of the 20th century. Author Matt De La Pena captures this event through a dramatic use of free verse and the rhythm of his text perfectly captures the feel of a boxing match. De La Pena also provides background that helps the reader understand why this bout was so important. On the first page, he writes "White men wait standing beside black men, but standing apart Jim Crow America." Joe Louis represented the hopes of millions who wanted to see racial equality become a reality in America. The artwork of illustrator Kadir Nelson is simply incredible. His contrast of shadows and light are amazing. A Nation's Hope should be considered a contender for the 2012 Caldecott Medal.

There are several resources available on You Tube and other outlets regarding this piece of history. The relationship between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling after this fight is a fascinating one to read about. Students could contrast this event with Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

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