I can’t talk about Kwame Alexander without mentioning “The Undefeated.”
It’s harder for me to talk about a picture book that is one long poem, instead of a collection of poems. BUT this is a book that must be talked about. Not just because it won the Caldecott medal this year.
Kwame Alexander is a wonderful poet. I saw him talk at the LA SCBWI conference in 2017 and instantly fell in love with his novels in verse (which I admit I hadn’t read until that time). I’ve watched his poetry grow and bloom into a variety of genres, and just like yesterday’s book, I was … impressed? That seems too weak a word to describe what I mean.
“The Undefeated” is a poem about African Americans, but it’s for everyone. It is beautifully written with some stunning illustration choices by illustrator Kadir Nelson, like this one:
I love how he chose Jesse Owens (even though he’s never once mentioned in the text), but even more, I love the composition on the page. Jesse is the only thing you see on the page, but he’s running so fast, you almost don’t get to see him! He’s running off the page with his arms and legs. He’s also running to the right so you can’t help but turn the page to find out more. Brilliant!
Kadir also uses a multitude of art styles (in a collage approach at times) to help illustrate Kwame’s text (like my absolute favorite spread from the book, which I will share in a minute). Kwame’s poem talks in general terms, but Kadir interprets each page with specific people from history who have made an impact in some way. Sometimes they are recognizable and sometimes they aren’t. There is an index at the back of the book to identify all the figures who are in each spread.
I admit I smiled when I saw my favorite spread. I recognized several of the figures right away, including one of my all time favorite poets: Langston Hughes. BUT I didn’t know everyone, especially with some of the different artistic interpretations. See if you can figure out who everyone is in this picture:
If you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, track it down. It left me breathless and I feel SO inadequate to describe what is inside its covers. It is a beautiful poem and a beautiful work of art. It might leave you silent at times, or it might even make you cry. But it will definitely lift you up.
And if you’re looking for more poetry fun this month, be sure to check out the Kidlitosphere Event Roundup!