Ntozake Shange, , illus. by Edel Rodriguez. . Hyperion, $15.99 (36pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0554-9

Shange (I Live in Music) offers a streamlined, clearly affectionate account of the life of Muhammad Ali, who, she says in an introductory note, continues to inspire "hope and courage." Her portrait effectively reveals the fighter's personality, re-creating conversations between young Cassius and his parents and later quoting some of his well-known proclamations. Rodriguez (Mama Does the Mambo) begins with a close-up view of the subject as a child, poised and gazing heavenward, then shifts to a full-bleed spread that conveys the historical backdrop: the boy stands at a "colored" water fountain, on the right of the horizontal painting, looking across the gutter at a "white" fountain ("As a boy, he struggled to make his way in the segregated world of the pre-civil rights South," reads the text). The author subtly intimates that his parents are the source of Ali's confidence (his father compliments him on his way with words; his mother tells him, "So long as you are alive, I want you to remember, you are God's work"). The volume nicely characterizes this modern-day hero, with poster-like illustrations and punchy text, but for a more thorough picture-book biography, readers will do better with last season's Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali (Walker) by James Haskins, illus. by Eric Velasquez. Ages 5-9. (Sept.)