Jimmy the Greatest!

Jairo Buitrago, trans. from the Spanish by Elisa Amado, illus. by Rafael Yockteng. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $18.95 (52p) ISBN 978-1-55498-178-6
This poignant, funny creation from the team behind Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup seems to promise big things for its hero. Wide-eyed Jimmy lives in a ramshackle, tin-roofed village, painted by Yockteng in a style that’s half folk-naïf, half Matt Groening. Jimmy finds out about Muhammad Ali from a boxful of old newspapers and, galvanized, starts training in the local gym. “He wasn’t thinking about what he didn’t have anymore.... He didn’t need much stuff to run.” As he gains confidence—“Not many people dared to get in the ring with him”—momentum builds. But it’s Jimmy’s trainer, Don Apolinar, who leaves for the big city, while Jimmy stays behind; he ends up coaching kids at the gym. “This is my town,” he says. “There are donkeys, three sheep and the great huge sea.... But we’re really great.” Readers expecting a triumphant, Rocky-like ending get a taste of Jimmy’s disappointment instead. Buitrago isn’t preaching, either—Jimmy’s just an ordinary guy, not a moral hero. This is a genuine, bighearted picture of life in a Third World village that neither romanticizes poverty nor evokes pity—and it packs a powerful punch. Ages 4–7. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/09/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
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