In the history of legendary boxers, there was Joe Louis and Sonny Liston . . . and then, “the heavens opened up, and there appeared a great man descending on a cloud, jump-roping into the Kingdom of Boxing. And he was called Cassius Clay.” Clay let everyone know that he was the greatest boxer in the world. He converted to the Nation of Islam, refused to be drafted into a war in which he didn’t believe, and boxed his way back to the top after being stripped of his title. The man that came to be known as Muhammad Ali was heard in a voice no one will ever forget.
With biblical references and a reverential tone, this lyrical story of Muhammad Ali paints the fighter (and the history of African-American boxers) in mythic proportions: "In the beginning was Jack Johnson." A subsequent spread features posters of Joe Louis and Sonny Liston, but the grand introduction is saved for Ali, shown running in the rain by night: "And the heavens opened up,/ and there appeared a great man/ descending on a cloud, jump-roping/ into the Kingdom of Boxing./ And he was called Cassius Clay." Roca's (Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing) strikingly realistic oil illustrations pack a powerful punch, and his use of light recalls Edward Hopper. He also captures subtle and overt emotions in facial gestures Ali exudes braggadocio before his match with Liston, and in another scene, white reporters' faces register skepticism at his boasts. Winter's (Diego) cadenced, non-rhyming verse highlights just a few episodes from Ali's career and glorifies him as a king and near-miraculous savior, rather than emphasizing hard work on his part, but the result is no less inspiring ("Muhammad Ali was a new kind of boxer / and a new kind of person./ And he was creating a new way/ for African Americans to be"). Alongside the veneration is the subtle message that children, too, can achieve all that they imagine. Ages 4-8.