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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2019. $24.99 all ages

“This is for the unflappable.
The sophisticated ones
who box adversity
and tackle vision

who shine
their light for the world to see
and don't stop 
'til the break of dawn. 

This is for the unafraid."

What a collaboration! It should come as no surprise. Kwame Alexander has penned a poem that walks his readers through the history of the African-American experience. It is an astonishing and heartbreaking tribute to those artists, athletes, leaders who have accomplished so much; it also assures that the pain and suffering endured will not be forgotten.

"This is for the unforgettable.
The swift and sweet ones
who hurdled history
and opened a world
of possible."

Kadir Nelson's incomparable portraits leave the reader feeling as if they have just walked the halls of an art gallery. They reflect members of a larger community whose triumphs are too often accompanied by tragedy. It doesn't stop them; in Mr. Nelson's beautiful art we are able to see the determination, the pride, the joy felt.

"The Wilma Rudolphs
The Muhammad Alis
The Althea Gibsons
The Jesse Owenses
The Jordans and The LeBrons
The Serenas and the Sheryls
The Reece Whitleys
and the undiscovered."

An afterword provides context for the genesis of this brilliant poem he wrote and performed because he wanted his daughters 'to know how we got to this historic moment', and to be awed by the work, persistence, heartbreak, honor, promise, and talent of so many. He wants all who read it to know that Black. Lives. Matter. 'Because we are Americans. Because we are human beings.'

"Keep rising." 

Finally, a annotated list of notes on the figures portrayed is included.

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