Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali


A dynamic author-illustrator team follows the threetime heavyweight champ through twelve rounds of a remarkable life.

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. . . . I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived!"

From the moment a fired-up teenager from Kentucky won 1960 Olympic gold to the day in 1996 when a retired legend, hands shaking from Parkinson’s, returned to raise the Olympic torch, the boxer known as "The Greatest" waged many a fight. Some were in the ring, against ...

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A dynamic author-illustrator team follows the threetime heavyweight champ through twelve rounds of a remarkable life.

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. . . . I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived!"

From the moment a fired-up teenager from Kentucky won 1960 Olympic gold to the day in 1996 when a retired legend, hands shaking from Parkinson’s, returned to raise the Olympic torch, the boxer known as "The Greatest" waged many a fight. Some were in the ring, against opponents like Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier; others were against societal prejudice and against a war he refused to support because of his Islamic faith. Charles R. Smith Jr.’s rap-inspired verse weaves and bobs and jabs with relentless energy, while Bryan Collier’s bold collage artwork matches every move — capturing the "Louisville loudmouth with the great gift of rhyme" who shed the name Cassius Clay to take on the world as Muhammad Ali.

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Editorial Reviews

Robert Lipsyte
It is the text by Charles R. Smith Jr. that illuminates the dazzle and daring of Ali, and ultimately the spiritual calm. He writes in a soft-rap second person singular, suggesting a poetry-slam letter of thanks for a life that has enriched us. This is a book that fulfills the mission of engaging readers until they are ready for the ever expanding adult shelf of Aliology in all its nuance and spin.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This paean to the legendary pugilist offers a multifaceted portrait of the fighter as brazen, charitable, fiercely competitive and deeply spiritual. Smith's (I Am America) poetry recalls the rhymed, rhythmic chants Ali used to inflate his image and taunt opponents ("Fighting opponents and hatred/ with two glowing gloves,/ you spoke your mind freely/ while radiating love"). Each of the dozen chapters represents a period in Ali's life, from his birth through his boxing years, his conversion to Islam and retirement and diagnosis with Parkinson's. The fight scenes don't sugarcoat the violence: "when his rock-solid fist,/ released from way back,/ slingshot your cheek/ and broke your jaw with a crack." While some rhymes feel forced ("Each victory inching you/ closer to Sonny/ Liston, the champion,/ for title and money"), Smith's chronicle of Ali's life is nonetheless remarkable in its use of a compact, verse format to convey a great deal of biographical material. Collier's (Lift Every Voice and Sing) dynamic collages capture the emotional weight of both Ali's triumphs and failings; memorably, he depicts the fighters' blows as small ball bearings with fiery tails that radiate outward, heightening the sense of impact. Bold quotes from Ali and others seem to shout across the spreads and, along with Collier's artwork, provide a visual respite from the lengthy columns of verse. This unique and thorough tribute to a complex American hero should readily enthrall those seeking a less conventional biography. Ages 10-up. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
This slim, unique work of art profiles the life of Muhammad Ali from his birth in 1942 until his present-day battle with Parkinson's Disease. There is not much in-depth information here, but many of Ali's direct quotes and anecdotes are relayed. Much text is devoted to Ali's various fights, especially the ones against George Forman and Joe Frazier. His strong Islamic faith is credited with many of his successes as well as his opposition to the Vietnam War. Written in verse, the sing-song rap format might not appeal to some. The strength of this book lies in the work of the illustrator. Every page has wonderfully bold-colored, collage-style artwork enhancing the text. It is cataloged as a sports book, but it works better as a lovely picture book. There is a time line at the end of the book. Walter Dean Myers's The Greatest (Scholastic, 2000/VOYA February 2001), is a more moving tribute to the life of Muhammad Ali. Reviewer: Kathie Fitch
Children's Literature
Lyrical verse with the cadence of rap weaves and bops its way through the life of Muhammad Ali. In twelve glorious rounds his life is measured, from his humble beginnings as Cassius Clay, to his youthful introduction to boxing, through all his title bouts and the triumphant moment when with hands shaking from Parkinson’s, Ali lifted his torch to the Olympic flame. The quintessential showman is presented here with all his bravado and stinging taunts at opponents Sonny Liston and Joe Frasier. But we are also shown a man deeply committed to his Islamic faith and one who firmly stands up for what he believes in his refusal to be a combatant in the Viet Nam war. In his celebration of the man who is a legend, the author does not shy away from writing about the two final years of Ali’s career that saw back-to-back defeats, or discussing the disease that is now wracking the body of the “Prince of Pugilism.” Handsome watercolors and collages are filled with energy and power and dramatically enhance this remarkable biography of a flawed man, but one still deserving to be called “the greatest.” Facial expressions are strong and emotive while the athleticism of the boxer is revealed in every fight scene. Onomatopoeic words add punch and vigor. The dense verse may be intimidating at first but the persistent readers will be rewarded. Readers who have enjoyed Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Jim Haskins (2002) may be ready for this. It has been named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book for 2008. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal

Gr 5 Up
Smith is best known for his high-energy poetry celebrating basketball and other sports, and this biography is his most ambitious undertaking yet. Rap-style cadences perfectly capture the drama that has always surrounded this boxer's life: "Louisville Lip leaps to life/just a few short years/after your first pro fight./Braggin'/and boastin'/and callin' the round,/signifyin'/how your opponent would go down." From Ali's childhood as Cassius Clay, to the realization that even an Olympic gold medal would not shield him from racial injustices, to a career that included three heavyweight titles, and his life after retirement, Smith skillfully weaves together the threads of the boxer's life, including his Muslim faith and his run-ins with the American government during the Vietnam War. Each chapter, or "round," represents a specific period, and selected quotes from Ali and voice-overs from announcers provide a "you are there" feeling. Collier's compelling watercolor collages with their brown overtones beautifully portray Ali's determination and strength. Each spread seamlessly melds powerful artwork and text in a way that transcends what either could be on its own. The thorough recounting of Ali's life, along with back matter that includes a time line and key statistics, makes this a superior choice over Tonya Bolden's The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali (Knopf, 2004). Smith's honest portrayal of Ali's strengths and flaws results in an impressive testimony to a man who never backed down from his beliefs. A first purchase for any collection looking for strong, well-rounded biographies: the poetry format will appeal to both seasoned and reluctant readers.
—Kim DareCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Smith's most ambitious project to date celebrates the life of Muhammad Ali, from his Olympic gold medal in 1960, renowned fights with Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier, his personal battle with Parkinson's syndrome to the dramatic lighting of the Olympic torch at the 1996 Atlanta games. The attractive, large-format design and the rap-inspired poems, arranged in 12 rounds like a boxing match, will attract readers. However, the combination of busy and dense layout, long poems with complicated rhymes and rhythms and a large amount of biographical information conveyed in the poems makes the volume daunting, even for experienced readers. Collier's watercolor-and-collage illustrations range from spectacular to bizarre, demonstrating-as in his illustrations for Doreen Rappaport's John's Secret Dreams (2004)-a tendency for his work to be distractingly symbolic. A challenging, sometimes beautiful tribute to a modern-day hero-attractive, impressive and dramatic, but not a knockout. (timeline) (Poetry/nonfiction. 10+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763616922
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 11/13/2007
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 1,467,347
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 10.34 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryan Collier

Charles R. Smith Jr. is the author of HOOP QUEENS and its companion, HOPP KINGS. He also wrote and illustrated the American Library Association Notable Book RIMSHOTS: BASKETBALL PIX, ROLLS, AND RHYTHMS, among other titles. Charles R. Smith Jr. lives in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Bryan Collier is the illustrator of several award-winning books, including UPTOWN and the Coretta Scott King winners A FREEDOM RIVER, MARTIN'S BIG WORDS, and VISITING LANGSTON. MARTIN'S BIG WORDS was also named a Caldecott Honor Book. Bryan Collier lives in New York.

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This book is a beautiful poetic expression of the life of Muhammad Ali, his life as a legend, an eloquent speaker and his heart of gold.

    Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali is a poetic expression of Ali's life. From his birth in Louisville, Kentucky to his current life and struggles with Parkinson's Disease, follow along with each round of the book as Ali battles through his boxing career. In reviewing this book I learned about many highlights in Ali's life I was not aware of. Like his earliest interest in boxing brought on by a stolen bike, his encounter with man, a cop, who became his trainer. Ali's arrest, jail time and why, plus so much more. Each round a snippet of his life's greatest and not so greatest moments. This book ends with a glance at her personal life, his many wives, all his children and what he is doing today. In the back of the book you will find a timeline which outlines his career from 1942 up to his retirement from boxing in 1981. Written by Ali's son this book is not just about his fathers boxing career, but also about the struggles Ali encountered in breaking the mold. Which as a black man included standing up for himself and eloquently speaking out. Throughout his career Ali was his own promoter by his use of words in a constant poetical and lyrical motion. I feel this is an excellent book for a not only children but also for adults who would like to learn more about Muhammad Ali. A legend, a boxer who fought not for money but to express his strength, pride and his freedom, his character passed down to Ali from his own father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr.

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  • Posted December 6, 2010

    great words with capturing watercolor pictures!

    Smith and Collier have created a wonderful book full of, what appears to be watercolor, larger-than-life Ali busting right out of the pages. Large blocky text quotes bounce right out at you through the pages and the rhythem and rhyme text provide balance to the paintings. This is an inspirational biography of the life of Muhammad Ali which makes you want to go do what your heart sets you out to do. I love reading the huge quotes on the pages because it helps you realize the important parts of the book and I also love the huge watercolor paintings because it helps you put a face to the words. This is a great book for children 8 and older and would be great to share with anyone about the life of Muhammad Ali.

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  • Posted October 20, 2009

    Te 301 Mulitcultural Book Review

    This book combines Ali's biography in a playful manner of a poemesque manner. The book displays the chapters as different rounds in his life. Round one being his birth and each round after that being about something significant that happened in his life. I learned Ali's real name, which is Cassious Clay and that he got his name of Muhammad Ali because he converted to the Islam religion. I found the book very interesting and easy to read and follow along with. This book won the Coretta Scott King Award. I would use this book in the classroom to discuss African American Culture Month. Overall, I liked the book. I did think it would be more of a chapter book, but it has chapters and is written in book form, so I guess it works.

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  • Posted October 14, 2009

    A great tribut to the life of Muhammad Ali

    Twelve Rounds To Glory is a biography of Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time. The book is written in what seems like an epic poem with Ali as its hero. It chronicles his life from his days as an olympic boxer all the way up to when he lit the olympic torch in Atlanta in 1996. The book is beautifully illustrated and is just overall a wondeful tribute to Ali. I enjoyed reading it and was captivated the whole way through.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2008


    This book is awesome. My granddaughter's 4th grade classmate just loved the book and could not put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2008


    this book is wonderful. it really captures the reader.the best book of the year.

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