Monday, October 28, 2013

A champion read

Muhammad Ali: the King of the Ring ,written by Lewis Helfand and illustrated by Lalit Kumar Sharma, is a graphic novel biography about, you guessed it, Muhammad Ali.

I was fairly surprised that I stuck with this one.  I’m not into sports in a big way, let alone boxing.  Just don’t see the appeal.  But I did grow up when Ali was looking to make his comeback during the 70s’ and his name was everywhere.

This comic book is a succinctly well-told narrative that covers Ali’s life as a young boy from a tight-knit family living in race-segregated Kentucky in the 40s’ and 50s’, to the present day. 

Learning to box was a fluke chance, but he immediately took to it and stuck with it, though apparently without much skill initially.  Ali’s tremendous drive to succeed takes us through his early fights, the 1960s Olympics in Rome, each comeback match he had in the 70s and his retirement in the 80s,

Interlaced with Ali’s personal history, the reader is given glimpses into the political climate and social fabric of American life. 

First, there’s Ali’s discovery and growing interest in the controversial group, Nation of Islam. While advocating racial pride for Black Americans, it also promoted hatred for all whites. Ali does become a follower, drawn to the peaceful aspects of Islam and its emphasis on Black pride, eventually taking a new name. Cassius Clay becomes Muhammad Ali.

The Vietnam War also had personal ramifications for Ali when he refused to be drafted into the army.  He was a pacifist who wanted no part of it.  This resulted in legal actions that prevented him from boxing for three years when he was at his peak.

The illustrations are a great way for us to follow his boxing career.  A lot of action is conveyed in the fight scenes with it often spilling over several panels.  The dialogue and description helps build the tension for each fight.  Will he win or lose this time?  Will his arrogance play against him?  Reading about the course of his career is fascinating.

Ali is conveyed as a determined, principled man who knew what he wanted and worked hard to get it. He is depicted as a humanitarian, generously helping others less fortunate, a family-man who looked after his parents and children and a dedicated boxer.  He respected his opponents despite his trash talk.

The book takes us to present day summing up the many aspects of Muhammad Ali’s greatness.

I would recommend this for grades 8 and up.  

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being hosted at Booktalking.  Check up this round up of nonfiction children's literature from a variety of blogs.


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