Author Jim Haskins and illustrator Eric Velasquez have put together an excellent picture-book biography honoring the man who strove to knock down racial and religious barriers while kayoing some of the greatest fighters of his time.
Champion takes readers through Muhammad Ali's entire life. Written in a clear and engaging manner, the book shows how the young Cassius Clay decided to take up boxing after his bike was stolen in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Following the boxer's career from his gold-medal victory at the 1960 Summer Olympics to his surprise appearance at the '96 Games, Haskins provides a complete portrait filled with all the important events: the first world-championship fight with Sonny Liston in 1964, Ali's conversion from Christianity to Islam, his refusal to join the army during the Vietnam War, and his famous "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman. The book also ends nicely with a chronology of Ali's life, along with a selected bibliography for adults and young readers.
Although this book is aimed at upper-elementary and middle-grade readers, it's suitable for anyone who wants to learn more about tolerance and understand the ability of a single person to make a difference in society. Velasquez's oil illustrations -- particularly the close-ups -- capture Ali's emotional expressions wonderfully, enhancing a vibrant tribute to this important figure. (Matt Warner)