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

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

Matt de la Peña, illus. by Kadir Nelson, Dial, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8037-316

Nelson's (Mama Miti) photographically realistic, luminescent oil paintings bring to life this lyrical tribute to boxing legend Joe Louis. Focusing on Louis's 1938 rematch against German Max Schmeling, "Son of a black sharecropper/ against Hitler's ‘master race,' " de la Peña (We Were Here), in his first picture book, shows how the event unified a racially divided country for one evening, "white men hugging black men/ and black men hugging back." The story of the fight bookends a biography of Louis. Spare, evocative verse melds with the eloquent illustrations to create palpable energy around the fight and Louis's struggle to the top. "Black neighborhoods,/ longing for a hero to call their own, found Joe,/ and danced his every triumph in the streets." The accompanying spread shows fans cheering from rooftops and windows as Joe and his wife walk down a Harlem sidewalk. Another stunning scene features a closeup of two pairs of entangled red boxing gloves, with Louis's copper muscles bulging as he helps a white opponent to his feet. A dramatic introduction to a pugilist who symbolized many things for an entire country. Ages 6–8. (Jan.)