cover image Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali

Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali

Charles R. Smith, Jr., , illus. by Bryan Collier. . Candlewick, $19.99 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1692-2

This paean to the legendary pugilist offers a multifaceted portrait of the fighter as brazen, charitable, fiercely competitive and deeply spiritual. Smith's (I Am America ) poetry recalls the rhymed, rhythmic chants Ali used to inflate his image and taunt opponents (“Fighting opponents and hatred/ with two glowing gloves,/ you spoke your mind freely/ while radiating love”). Each of the dozen chapters represents a period in Ali's life, from his birth through his boxing years, his conversion to Islam and retirement and diagnosis with Parkinson's. The fight scenes don't sugarcoat the violence: “when his rock-solid fist,/ released from way back,/ slingshot your cheek/ and broke your jaw with a crack .” While some rhymes feel forced (“Each victory inching you/ closer to Sonny/ Liston, the champion,/ for title and money”), Smith's chronicle of Ali's life is nonetheless remarkable in its use of a compact, verse format to convey a great deal of biographical material. Collier's (Lift Every Voice and Sing ) dynamic collages capture the emotional weight of both Ali's triumphs and failings; memorably, he depicts the fighters' blows as small ball bearings with fiery tails that radiate outward, heightening the sense of impact. Bold quotes from Ali and others seem to shout across the spreads and, along with Collier's artwork, provide a visual respite from the lengthy columns of verse. This unique and thorough tribute to a complex American hero should readily enthrall those seeking a less conventional biography. Ages 10-up. (Dec.)