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

Booklist Reviews 2011 February #1
*Starred Review* Sometimes a boxing match is just that, a sport played out on the fists and jaws of two determined contenders. But sometimes it is so much more, as in the 1938 bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. This spectacularly illustrated, smoothly cadenced picture book sets up the historic fight--"Son of a black sharecropper / against Hitler's ‘master race' / Black and white Americans / together against the rule of Nazi hate"--and then quickly traces Louis' rise from a quiet boy in Jim Crow America to a magnificent fighter and national hero. Nelson, who's incapable of even a mediocre painting, flexes his artistic muscle here, varying his always effective blue-sky-backed, leveled-gaze portraits with dizzying and dramatic angles, both in and out of the ring. The full weight of the fight's import may need some additional historical context for young readers, but the message rings through in any case: that this was a unifying and triumphant moment of national pride, for all Americans, and that sports can capture people's hearts for more reasons than just winning. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Fall
On the eve of WWII, Joe Louis squares off against formidable German Max Schmeling, a symbol of the Nazi regime. De la Peqa's free-verse narrative heightens the historic sporting event's suspense. Nelson's oil paintings vividly capture not only the drama of the fight scenes but also the entire nation waiting with bated breath and quickened pulse for the outcome. Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #1
It's 1938, and the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium is electric -- with good reason: heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis is squaring off against Max Schmeling. On the eve of World War II, the rematch against the formidable German, the only man who has knocked Louis down, is a matter of national pride. Americans, regardless of color, support Louis and oppose Schmeling, a symbol of the troubling policies of the Nazi regime. At the height of the suspense, de la Pena's free-verse narrative flashes back to Louis's childhood and early career right up to the point where Schmeling wins their first fight, but in the second fight (two years after the first, a fact the text doesn't mention), Schmeling is no match for Louis, and with the victory 'the streets of Harlem once again dance for their hero.' Nelson vividly captures not only the drama of the fight scenes but also the entire nation waiting with bated breath and quickened pulse. His oil paintings, with their impassioned but regal quality, are an excellent counterpart for Joe Louis and this historic sporting event. JONATHAN HUNT Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 December #1

When Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in 1938, the bout was for more than the heavyweight title; it was the coming together of Black and White America against Nazi oppression. While in reality neither man was comfortable with such a weight of history on his shoulders, and Schmeling was not a member of the Nazi Party, this work portrays history more single-mindedly. Schmeling is simply "Hitler's German" or "the German," a stereotyped Other, while Louis is "a nation's hope," a symbol all of America rallied around. The story is related in poetic lines with quirky punctuation, an occasional clunky line and an overwrought extended metaphor about shadows: "Devastated, he covered his face leaving the ring / Shadows once again falling and the taste of failure ..." The eye-catching volume features Nelson's oils-on-wood paintings, at their best in close-up portraits and panoramic spreads. The brightly lit boxing ring with the shadows of a nighttime Yankee Stadium all around are breathtaking. No backmatter is included to expand upon a story that seems as perfunctory as the one-round match itself. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 November #1

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.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 February

Gr 3-5--With stunning art and dramatic storytelling, Nelson and de la Peña recount the story behind the 1938 boxing match between American champ Joe Louis and "Hitler's German," Max Schmeling. As the nation edged closer to war, Joe Louis felt the weight of expectations on his shoulders, along with the aspirations of his race. He had already overcome obstacles: in childhood, he was ridiculed for his stammer: "words spinning just beyond/Joe's grasp." Salvation appeared at the boxing gym, where he worked tirelessly and "grew into his body," especially his oversize, strong hands. "Back then blacks didn't win decisions/Not against whites/Joe had to let his fists be the referees." He accumulated a string of wins and his fame grew, until Schmeling humiliated him in a stunning upset in 1936. Two years later, a rematch was scheduled in front of 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, while an even larger radio audience listened intently. Nelson's artful compositions, rendered in oil on wood, heighten the drama. Juxtaposing light and dark, the artist enlarges on the theme of Louis's "shadow boxing" career: from a "childhood in shadows," Joe gradually stepped out of the shadows until his momentous victory banished them. This well-crafted work brings this pivotal period in history to life; pair it with George Sullivan's Knockout: A Photobiography of Boxer Joe Louis (National Geographic, 2008) for the rest of his story, along with context and perspective.--Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

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