Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson

This new picture book is a biography of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion. Jack grew up in Texas and was the child of former slaves. He was bullied by other children, but grew up to be one of the strongest and mightiest men of the boxing world. Â

Written by Charles. R. Smith, and illustrated (BEAUTIFULLY) by Shane W. Evans, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Jack Johnson’s heavyweight victory. This book gives a good foundation of facts for younger readers. The prose is interwoven with quotes from Johnson and other boxers he fought during his career.  Smith brilliantly prompts readers to learn more by putting “And then what happened?” on the last page.

I like this book because it makes Johnson’s life and story accessible for children. He was a VERY controversial person. Arrogant, determined, strong and confident, he did not allow racism to keep him from succeeding. This book inspired me to learn more, so I checked out the documentary about Jack Johnson and learned the whole story.  He was no angel, and there are many parallels between him and the athletes of today.  This would be great for teachers and school librarians that want to engage children who love sports.

I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the illustrations! They are beautiful, lively, rich, and active (not unlike Jack Johnson 😉 My favorite pages are 9-10; Evans has a simple and yet profound montage of Johnson’s hands working odd jobs through the years (dock worker, shop sweeper, porter, boxer etc). These pages show Jack’s long and difficult road to becoming a champion.

I’d recommend this book for everyone, but particularly children who like to learn about history or sports. I would also display this for Black History Month, or create a sports heroes display along with books about Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, etc.

Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson

Charles R. Smith (author) & Shane W. Evans (illustrator)

Roaring Book Press, 2010

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