A Nation's Hope: the story of boxing legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Pena, illus by Kadir Nelson
Like everything else in 1930's boxing was segregated.
The world waits for Joe Louis to take the ring,
take center stage
White men wait standing beside Black men, but standing apart
Jim Crow America
In the 1938 rematch against German fighter Max Schmeling, Louis was looked upon as a nation's hope because of the impending war. This is the fight that de la Pena leads readers to, though first we are introduced to a young Joe Louis.
He didn't speak until he was six,
and when he finally spoke he stammered
and was ridiculed
Words spinning just beyond Joe's grasp,
and with black skin he passed through childhood in the shadows
Yet there was something about his hands, so big and powerful
Nights he'd stare down at those hands and dream
Nelson's image of a young Joe Louis to the right of Pena's text is strong, gorgeous and focused. Nelson easily captures the strength of Louis's hands. It's one of my favorite panels in the book. The same goes for Pena. Author and illustrator were very in sync.
Pena's text has a great rhythm to it, very fitting for a biography on a boxer. Nelson's illustrations are lovely as always. I do wish the author would've included some back information. There isn't even a timeline or author's note.
Though A Nation's Hope is a still nice introduction to Joe Louis, the second Black heavyweight champion. After reading this I wanted to learn more about Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and that lead me to this, was quickly sucked in and watched all nine parts.
I have Pena and Nelson to thank for my desire to want to know more about Louis. I believe readers of all ages will be moved to do the same.