Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive

Overview

In 1936, America was years away from war with Nazi Germany. But long before the first battle of World War II, a starter's gun fired the first shot in our battle against the Nazis.

Adolf Hitler viewed the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a chance to show the superiority of the German "race" over the rest of the world. He never expected that an American, let alone a black American, would dash his dreams.

Jesse Owens grew up during an age when segregation...

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Overview

In 1936, America was years away from war with Nazi Germany. But long before the first battle of World War II, a starter's gun fired the first shot in our battle against the Nazis.

Adolf Hitler viewed the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a chance to show the superiority of the German "race" over the rest of the world. He never expected that an American, let alone a black American, would dash his dreams.

Jesse Owens grew up during an age when segregation laws forced him to eat at separate restaurants and stay at different hotels. But Jesse never let it slow him down while setting world records and winning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Once in Berlin, the triumph of Jesse's will helped him run through any barrier, winning not only Olympic gold, but countless fans.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Weatherford (Moses) addresses her poetic tribute to Jesse Owens's remarkable performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the athlete himself: "Go from cotton fields to city sidewalks,/ from sickly child to keen competitor,/ from second-class citizen to first-place finish./ Go, Jesse, go. Trounce Jim Crow./ Run as fast as your feet can fly,/ as far as your dreams will reach." This allows the author to weave in subtle references and to make readers feel like privileged insiders (e.g., "find new track shoes/ to replace the ones you lost in New York"). The narrative follows Owens to Berlin, where Nazi flags line the streets, and beyond the city, to sobering images that Owens, and spectators of the Games, were "not meant to see"—the concentration camps. Hitler's presence casts a dark shadow over Owens's brilliance on the track ("Hitler does not want your kind here,/ does not believe you belong./ Prove him wrong"). After describing the fourth of the athlete's gold medal–clinching events, Weatherford asks, "Who'd have thought/ that a sharecropper's son,/ the grandson of slaves,/ would crush Hitler's pride?" In the tale's final victorious note, Owens rides "like a prince" in the lead car of a Manhattan ticker-tape parade honoring his team. An endnote provides facts about Owens's life before and after his Olympic feats. Sometimes calling to mind old-time photographs, Velasquez's (The Other Mozart, reviewed above) pleasingly grainy pastels easily convey the movement and speed, determination and triumph at the core of Owens's uplifting story. Ages 6-11. (Jan.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Keri Collins
Though America's fight against Hitler would not begin for several years, the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany shone a spotlight on a nation ruled by Nazi prejudice. This insightful picture book biography tells the story of Jesse Owens, the track-and-field athlete who won four gold medals and crushed Hitler's dream of using the Olympics to show the superiority of the "German race." Carole Boston Weatherford sets the tone for the book with the rousing poem "Go!"—simultaneously summarizing Owens's youth and cheering him on to success as an Olympic competitor. Illustrator Eric Velasquez's soft pastels launch the book by depicting the Olympic champion beginning a race, and the images continue to propel readers through each scene as though viewing snapshots in a scrapbook. The illustrations perfectly balance the thoughtful poems Weatherford created, detailing each step toward the defining moment, when Owens won his fourth gold medal and set a world record for the long jump that would remain unbroken for twenty-five years. The sensitive interweaving of both words and pictures place the Olympic Games in their historical context of segregation in America and the Holocaust. However, these sad truths never overshadow the book's focus on an amazing American hero. Additional information at the end of the book rounds out the biography with facts about Jesse Owens's life "beyond the track," both before and after the 1936 Olympics. This inspirational story will serve many purposes in the classroom, from discussions about prejudice, the Holocaust, and segregation, to the importance of role models who are examples of determination, sportsmanship, and hard work.
School Library Journal

Gr 2–6
The year is 1936, and Owens is about to win an unprecedented four Olympic gold medals in Berlin, toppling Hitler's dream to showcase Aryan superiority. Written in second-person narration, the book focuses tightly on Owens's accomplishments, giving details about each of the four races and his role in uniting people across racial lines. Rich pastel illustrations, many of them based on historical photographs, make this title stand out from biographies illustrated with black-and-white photographs. As a picture book, it gives a sparsely detailed sketch of the events and has a few references that will need further explanation, such as Jim Crow, the autobahn, and concentration camps. The author omits the controversy surrounding Owens's last-minute replacement of a Jewish runner in the 400-meter relay. Briefly referring to the sprinter's childhood and segregation in the United States, the narrator encourages him to "Trounce Jim Crow," illustrated with a fictionalized picture of him running past segregated water fountains. What details exist are clearly researched. The book works well as an introduction for students old enough to begin talking about segregation in the United States and Hitler's Germany. Endnotes give background information.
—Suzanne Myers HaroldCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
This soaring tribute to Owens reserves biographical details for the afterword, focusing instead on his Olympics experience from arrival in Berlin to triumphant ticker-tape parade back in New York. In free verse that occasionally verges on the hyperbolic ("Who knew that you would trample / German might like a clod of dust / in a field of glory?"), Weatherford describes each event, noting Hitler's hostility but also the support that Owens received, both from the crowds and from fellow athletes like Luz Long, his German competitor in the broad jump. Using pastels on rough paper, Velasquez mixes scenes of the muscular Owens in action with vignettes of other significant moments, aptly capturing the drama and excitement of the occasion. A pulse-pounding, if occasionally over-the-top, alternative to the more conventional likes of David A. Adler's Picture Book of Jesse Owens (1992) or Patricia and Frederick McKissack's Jesse Owens, Olympic Star (rev. ed., 2001). Perfunctory reading list appended. (Picture book/biography. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802795502
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 12/26/2006
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 787,889
  • Age range: 7 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: AD880L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.27 (w) x 10.34 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Carole Boston Weatherford's first act as an author was at six years old, when she dictated a poem to her mother. Today, she is an award-winning author of nineteen books of poetry, nonfiction, and children's literature, including Walker & Company's The Sound That Jazz Makes, winner of the Carter G. Woodsen Award. As a writer, she wants to make sure that kids are always free to pursue their dream, just like Jesse. She resides in High Point, North Carolina, with her husband, Ronald, and their children, Caresse and Jeffery. Visit her Web site at www.caroleweatherford.com.

Eric Velasquez hadn't used pastels in over twenty years when he illustrated this book. He believes the change from oil painting was inspired by the challenging, vital subject: "Something about Jesse Owens cried out for an immediate medium such as pastels." His illustrations for Walker & Company's The Piano Man won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts and now lives in Harsdale, New York, with his wife, Deborah.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 13, 2009

    Wonderful book

    This book gave me chills when I read it! It traces the life of Jesse Owens as a sick child from a poor family to a world-renowned Olympic athlete. The main focus of the book is how Owens embarrassed Adolph Hitler by winning four gold medals in the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. Hitler was insulted that a black man would have the admiration of the world. The author does a wonderful job of making the book suspenseful. As I turned each page I could not wait to see what happened next. The illustrations are just as superb. They help tell the story as well. My only issue with the book is the part that mentions the concentration camps in Berlin. I understand why they are mentioned; however, were this section not in the book than it could easily be read to early elementary aged children, especially given the quality of the illustrations. I highly recommend the book for students from grades 3-6.

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