• Happy Birthday Diane Stanley (Leonardo da Vinci, Bella at Midnight).
  • It’s the birth date of Ingri Parin D’Aulaire (1904–1980) Abraham Lincoln, D’ Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths
  • In 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his journey aboard the HMS Beagle, during which he began to formulate the theory of evolution. Read Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist, The True Adventures of Charlie Darwin by Carolyn Meyer and The Tree of Life by Peter Sis.
  • Happy birthday to New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, which opened in1932.
  • It’s National Fruitcake Day. Read Junie B. Jones and the Yucky Blucky Fruitcake by Barbara Park, illustrated by Mark Podwal.

December has been designated Read a New Book Month, and this week we are celebrating Kwanzaa. The book of the day, A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, fits for both holidays and combines the talents of Matt de la Peña and Kadir Nelson in one of the best new offerings of 2011.

Although Matt de la Peña has concentrated on books for young adults, this text shows his dexterity at writing for a younger audience. He begins the saga: “Yankee Stadium. 1938./Packed crowds buzzing and bets/banter back and forth/The Bronx night air thick with summer.” Here on June 2, at 8:15 p.m. soft-spoken African-American Joe Lewis will take on Max Schmeling, the German boxer considered an example of Hitler’s master race.

Joe Lewis did not always look like a hero; as a boy, son of a sharecropper, Joe didn’t speak until he was six. With few opportunities open to him, he trained to be a boxer—learning to let his fists speak for him. As he progressed in his career, Joe Lewis became the pride of Harlem. At a time when all of America needed a hero, Joe stepped forth to battle the German fighter in this historic Yankee Stadium match.

Matt de la Peña, who has distinguished himself with sports books like Ball Don’t Lie and Mexican WhiteBoy, brings boxing—with its jabs and stabs—to life in this text. He sets the stage for the match and allows readers to experience the excitement that viewers felt. Kadir Nelson, certainly one of the finest artists working today, expands the story—providing strong and memorable portraits, scenes of action, and athletic bodies put to the test. As he did in We Are the Ship, Nelson paints dignified people who engage in sports and captures their prowess and their finesse. He makes Joe Lewis so engaging that readers are on their feet, cheering with the crowd at the end of the book.

I can think of no other book for children that presents boxing, and a boxer, so vibrantly. A Nation’s Hope is one of the best sports biographies for young readers in existence. It combines superb writing and brilliant art to bring readers a moment of sports history. And it celebrates the more serious underpinnings of this boxing match—when black and white citizens put aside prejudice and came together as Americans.

Here’s a page from A Nation’s Hope:


Originally posted December 27, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: African American, Boxing, History, Multicultural, Sports, World War II
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Lewis


  1. Beverly Rowan says:

    This would pair well with Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

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