Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review: The Champ

The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Grades 2-5. Dragonfly Books, 2004. Review copy provided by my local library.

All around the world - 
in tall, gleaming cities,
in small, quiet towns - 
the mere mention of the name
"Muhammad Ali"
will spark big smiles. 

But Muhammad Ali was not always his name.

So begins this picture book biography of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., better known as Muhammad Ali. The book describes Clay's childhood in Louisville, KY and his path to boxing. As a child, Clay loved to dodge rocks thrown at him by his brother, no doubt a precursor to "floating like a butterfly".  After an incident in which his bike was stolen, Clay started training and he went on to win three heavyweight championships and an Olympic gold medal.

Tonya Bolden's writing perfectly fits its subject. It's not quite straight prose, not quite straight poetry, but it bobs and weaves like Muhammad Ali in the ring. I love the poetic descriptions Bolden offers:

What a wonder he was to watch: with his fine physique, with his cheetah eyes, with his moonbeam smile...

So quick with his hands, so swift on his feet - Cassius Clay hardly ever got hit. And he had a super-fast - whiz-zip! - left jab. His STING! And a thunderbolt right - it stuned. And a rapid-fire left-right-left-right-left-right-rat-a-tat-tat - fierce flurry of punches. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!" became his motto, echoed around the world.

I didn't particularly care for the illustrations. Christie uses a lot of bright colors, which was very fitting for the biography of such a dynamic person, but his style just doesn't agree with me.

A short section of notes at the end of the book provides quote sources and a selected bibliography.

I love Tonya Bolden's work and I'll definitely be seeking out more of her books! Happy Nonfiction Monday - Wild About Nature's got the round-up this week, so go check it out!