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Muhammad Ali: The People's Champion

Muhammad Ali: The People's Champion

by Walter Dean Myers

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"I am America. I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me."

He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky. His very first boxing coach, former police officer Joe Martin, told him, "You better learn


"I am America. I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me."

He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky. His very first boxing coach, former police officer Joe Martin, told him, "You better learn how to fight before you start challenging people." Once considered the underdog, Cassius, later known as Muhammad Ali, would eventually win the title of heavyweight champion of the world. Acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers recounts the champ's most famous fights and examines the depth and complexity of the larger-than-life legend Muhammad Ali. The bold, vibrant art of Alix Delinois reflects the beauty and power of the man who could "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—In this picture-book biography, the spirit of prizefighter Muhammad Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, permeates the action-filled pages. Myers explains how young Cassius chose to become a student of boxing after his bike was stolen, which was his main form of transportation in the 1950s. By the age of 18, he was a Golden Gloves champion and well on his way to fame as he traveled to the Olympics in Rome. Calling to mind Ali's famous quote before his fight against Sonny Liston, "I'm going to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," endpapers are a brilliant orange background decorated with a plethora of bees and butterflies. Myers also inserts other well-known quotations seamlessly throughout the chronological framework of the book. Artwork, rendered in a painterly style, is dramatic and enhances the boldness of this boxing superstar. Especially notable is the portrait of Ali on the final page. The author concludes with a one-page time line of the athlete's life. This book will supplement existing biographies.—Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Muhammad Ali's life story is interwoven with significant historical events of the latter half of the 20th century-the American civil-rights movement, the war in Vietnam and the growth of the Nation of Islam-and Myers shows how he used his star status to make the case for the rights of African-Americans, conscientious objection and religious freedom as well as boosting his own athleticism. Delinois's emotive style packs a prismatic punch of its own. Bold brushstrokes create scenes and are overlaid and outlined with frenetic multi-hued pencil lines in a style reminiscent of Leonard Jenkins's. The total effect is energetic and disorienting, getting to the raw emotional impact of victory, loss, confrontation and peace. Myers's prose account of Cassius Clay's metamorphosis into the world heavyweight boxing champion is enlivened by (unsourced) quotations from friends, family and The Greatest himself, but it suffers from awkward transitions and occasionally incomplete contextualization for the audience. Despite its arresting visuals, it does not replace other such treatments as Jim Haskins's Champion, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (2002), or Tonya Bolden's The Champ, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (2004). (timeline) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)
Publishers Weekly
This artful biography of Muhammad Ali begins with his childhood in Louisville, Ky.—he started learning how to fight after his bicycle was stolen—and offers snapshots of his hard-earned career in the world of boxing. Myers (Looking Like Me) attends to the tempestuous political and social climate that so profoundly shaped Ali, while newcomer Delinois's powerfully expressive illustrations evoke the energy and emotion of the civil rights movement and Ali's stance as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. In the boxing rink, Ali's and his opponents' bodies are fluid, with kinetic chalky outlines and blocks of paint capturing the glistening heat and intensity of the fight. Myers makes good use of direct quotations from Ali, his family members, and other contemporaries (at the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali taunts George Foreman, "Punch, sucker. I thought you could hit. That's a sissy punch"), though the lack of citation for the quotes is surprising. This visually striking account ends with Ali, stricken with Parkinson's disease, lighting the torch at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, still determined to fight. Ages 5-8. (Jan.)
The Horn Book
“Exuberant. Delinois’s painterly illustrations express the famous boxer’s energy as well as the political upheaval around him.”
ALA Booklist
“Unexpectedly far reaching, this is a Muhammad Ali for the thinking child.”
“Illustrations in oils in rich browns, shades of grays, and white highlights show the fighter Muhammad Ali in many action poses exhibiting his strength and lightning speed. Sure to provide inspiration for young readers.”
Children's Literature - Della A. Yannuzzi
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. He learned how to box at the age of twelve with the help of a former policeman. Cassius was fast and soon became a Golden Gloves champion. By the time he was eighteen, he qualified for a place on the American Olympic boxing team and went on to win a gold medal. He won his first professional fight and then won eighteen more in a row. Cassius loved attention, and he liked to talk about being the greatest fighter in the world. Some people though he bragged too much because he had not even fought the top fighters. He had a chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world, Charles "Sonny" Liston. Cassius was confident he could beat Liston even though Liston was a strong puncher, but Cassius claimed he could "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." He danced around the floor while Liston tried to connect a punch. Six rounds later, Liston was finished. Cassius Clay was the new heavyweight champion of the world. Eventually, Clay's fans came to know him as Muhammad Ali. Ali had joined the Nation of Islam and became a Muslim and follower of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. He refused to be inducted into the armed forces of the United States because of his religious beliefs. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but it was appealed to higher courts. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Ali should be excused from serving in the army. In 1996, Ali was invited to light the Olympic torch at the games in Atlanta, Georgia even though he had been fighting a nerve disorder called Parkinson's disease for many years. Well-known author Walter Dean Myers has written a portrait of a determined and talented man who has become the People's Champion. Illustrations are big, powerful, and action-filled. Reviewer: Della A. Yannuzzi

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 11.10(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Walter Dean Myers is the New York Times bestselling author of Monster, winner of the first Michael L. Printz award, and Harlem, a Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor Book. The inaugural recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, he is considered one of the preeminent writers for children. He lives in New Jersey with his family.

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