Review: Author Calls Undefeated A Love Letter To Black America

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It is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, Freedom Day, the day that Americans were granted freedom from Great Britain. This year, it’s a day to celebrate, with social distance barbecues with friends, eating grilled chicken with corn on the cob, and just being giddy over the fact that we are free.

Not all Black Americans were free even after the Emancipation Proclamation, which happened about 100 years after America became it’s own country. We still had to fight for freedom. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, with illustrations by Kadir Nelson, is an award-winning poem to black America – to all the unforgettable, unflappable, and the unbeatable people.

I think it’s called The Undefeated because it’s a tribute to all the people that fought for their right to live, their right to be free. It’s to all the people that wouldn’t let a whip, a back seat on the bus, a gun; bring them down. But, there are also a few pages that actually sing to the people that didn’t survive. Not far in, there is a blank page with just a few words on it: “And the ones who didn’t”. I think it’s such a powerful page because it shows that for black America, it’s not all triumphant. We lose people. We lose a lot of people.

There is another page with the faces of four black girls faces in picture frames. All of the frames are cracked. That was to resemble the “Four Little Black Girls,” the girls who got killed from a bombing at their church: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. I loved that Kadir Nelson did this. It was so sad to see how many people have been lost, but the beautiful rhythm of the poem made it hopeful for the future.

The book starts during slavery times, writing a letter to the faith-driven survivors who wouldn’t let chains bring their dignity down. Then we venture into the Civil War, to learn about the brave warriors who battled for their chance to be free. Still, after that, they weren’t truly free, as innocent black boys, girls, men, and women, were (and still are!!!!!!!!!) killed because they were darker. So, today, July 4th, the day we celebrate freedom, you have to ask yourself – when will EVERYONE truly be one nation under God?

When I was reading this book, I heard the beautiful rhythm that the words portrayed. It was so powerful, the repetitiveness and beat of the poem. I also loved the beautiful illustrations. Each picture has some resemblance to a person or a period of time, like John Lewis, Michael Jordan, Althea Gibson, and the transatlantic slave trade. And, you can see in the back of the book, where it explains each picture and phrase. I thought that was cool!

The author was so creative!!!! I learned that when he wrote something in italics, he was quoting someone. “the night is beautiful” for example, is from a poem by Langston Hughes. Plus, “by any means necessary” was from a speech Malcolm X wrote.

I was wondering why Kwame Alexander chose the phrase “un” to describe black people in history. “Unafraid”, “Undeniable”, “Unforgettable”. I thought it may have had something to do the way some people may think black people are “un” something. “Unable”, “Uncontrollable”, “Unsatisfactory”. But, the author pushed those stereotypes back and decided to change the “un” words into positive, proud ones.

If you are between the ages of six and 12, I would definitely get this book! It isn’t about the presidents or the Founding Fathers, but it is a good read aloud and a good Fourth of July book, to show how not everyone is truly free, even after we had been granted independence.

I loved this book! I keep rereading it, because I am so moved! Four out of four roses!

2 comments

  1. Elena, we bought this book after a feature on Kadir Nelson’s illustrations, but haven’t read it yet. Your review has put it to the top of your list! I think this is one of the best reviews you’ve written. I think it’s a very astute analysis of the word “un” and you’re really tied this book to current events. Thank you for such a poingent review on Independence Day.

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind feedback! ❤ You NEED to read it. Kadir Nelson is a great illustrator, and the pictures in this book are phenomenal! Plus, the book really does tie to current events, and delivers a great message!

      Like

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