The Undefeated

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

In 2008, author Kwame Alexander wrote a poem to honor the birth of his second daughter and the victory of Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the United States. In notes, Alexander says, “I wanted to establish from the very beginning that much of what I’m talking about in this poem, so much of American history, has been forgotten, left out of the textbooks, and that to truly know who we are as a country, we have to accept and embrace all of our woes and wonders.”

Alexander’s poem, now with art from a two-time Caldecott honoree, highlights the victories of famous African-American athletes, musicians, political leaders, and more. It shares the struggles of the unknown ones—slaves who died on ships during the transatlantic slave trade and slaves who lived through daily humiliations: “The ones who survived\ America\ by any means necessary.\ And the ones who didn’t.\ This is for the undeniable.\ The ones who scored\ with chains\on one hand\ and faith\ in the other.” The poem also reveals the tragic loss of African-American children to violence during the Civil Rights Movement and more recently: “This is for the unspeakable.”

The Undefeated, which contrasts themes of joy and lament, singing and weeping, and triumph and tragedy, is brought to life by illustrator Kadir Nelson’s powerful, passionate paintings. Each portrayal captures the human dignity of its subject, despite circumstances of struggle or success. This absorbing children’s picture book, which includes historical notes about each person who is depicted, offers Christian parents and their children an opportunity to enjoy poetry and paintings with an emphasis on social justice for all God’s children.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt )

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.
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