The Undefeated


What do you get when Kwame Alexander writes a poem to shout a clarion call to the world that black lives matter and then, Kadir Nelson gives the words images and faces to make it all real?  You get THE UNDEFEATED.

This is beyond powerful.  This is staking a claim and chiseling it in granite and making a mighty declaration that black lives have always mattered and black heroes have always been there and the future holds making the impossible the possible just as much as the past holds the unspeakable.

You can hear the strength resonating from every line whether it's honoring Wilma Rudolph or Muhammad Ali or lives lost in church bombings and lynchings.  Kadir Nelson matches the resonance here stride for stride.  Every face is brought close to you so they will never ever be forgotten and so that they become part of everyone's history and everyone's story no longer invisible.  Kadir paints them close enough that you can hear them breathe.

Look at these faces and you will see indomitable spirit and courage and faith.  This is pride.  This is looking back to see how we got here.  This is the springboard to the future.

40 pages           978-1-328-78096-6          Ages 6-12

Keywords:  African American, African American author, diverse books, diversity, American history, heroes, courage, strength, determination, pride, social conditions, slavery, honor, 6 year olds, 7 year olds, 8 year olds, 9 year olds, 10 year olds

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


The Newbery Award-winning author of THE CROSSOVER pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.

Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world's greatest heroes.

The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.--from the publisher

40 pages           978-1-328-78096-6          Ages 6-12


“Holdin’ hands at midnight

‘Neath a starry sky

Nice work if you can get it

And you can get it if you try”

-- My favorite Ella Fitzgerald song, the George and Ira Gershwin tune.

“This is for the unforgettable.

The swift and sweet ones

who hurdled history

and opened a world

of possible.

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.

This is for the unflappable.

The sophisticated ones

who box adversity

and tackle vision

who shine

their light for the world to see

and don’t stop

‘til the break of dawn.”

So begins Kwame Alexander’s haunting poem which constitutes the text of THE UNDEFEATED. The poem is accompanied by Kadir Nelson’s stunning paintings of black American heroes from sports, the arts, and activism, many of whom are overlooked in American history texts. This book is special. I guarantee you that next February, teachers and librarians across the country will be sharing it during Black History Month.

The book is listed for grades one through four. I agree that it is appropriate and of great value for young people of these ages. But THE UNDEFEATED will also be of value and importance to tweens and teens. For older audiences, the poem and illustrations are just the beginning of what is presented here. The famous figures in the illustrations are not identified in the poem or illustrations. Instead, the backmatter includes a brief biographical entry for each of these American heroes.

For older audiences, the poem, illustrations, and biographical entries provides an artistic  jumping-off point for a study of American black history. I just spent the morning putting together a 35-video YouTube playlist that features, in greater depth, each of the famous Americans depicted in the book. You can access it here:

In addition to oral and written reports, I would have middle school and high school students performing works of the musicians we meet, like Miles and Monk, Lady Day and Ella Fitzgerald; reading aloud poems by Phillis Wheatley and Langston Hughes; reading aloud speeches by Dr. King and Congressman Lewis; and trying their hands at emulating the art styles of Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence.

For Kwame Alexander’s new Versify imprint, this book is the equivalent of an MJ triple-double. Don’t miss it.

40 pages           978-1-328-78096-6          Ages 6-12

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations: Richie's Picks

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