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Children's bookshelf.

Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Jim Haskins Illustrated by Eric Velasquez, Walker & Company, May 2002 $17.95, ISBN 0-802-78784-3

Jim Haskins' Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali is an oversized picture book that chronicles the life of the legendary boxer. Haskins traces the circumstances that led a young boy who grew up in the segregated South to become the most widely recognized public figure.

The author, who has written more than 100 nonfiction books for young readers, emphasizes Ali's professional and political life. Young readers learn that Ali, who was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., took up boxing when he was 12, because he wanted to find and fight the thief who stole his bicycle. But once he stepped into the ring, he realized that "boxing was a way he could become rich and famous."

Haskins guides readers through Ali's amateur and professional bouts, giving examples of some of the boxer's signature taunts. The author fast-forwards through the challenges that Cassius Clay faced after he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali; his refusal to be drafted; and the heavyweight title he lost. The latter part of Haskins' biography details Ali's comeback and his battle with Parkinson's disease. Eric Vasquez's animated, lifelike illustrations of the boxer during his fights and speeches add life to Haskins' text. Vasquez's images practically leap off the pages. Champion does a great job highlighting Ali's career, and it introduces generations of young readers to a man who has "shown the world that he could be true to himself and his beliefs and still be a winner."

--Lynda Jones is a BIBR associate editor.

Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues by Hariette Gillem Robinet, Aladdin, January 2002 $4.99, ISBN-0-689-83886-7

During the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, the Merrifield family was having trouble making ends meet as they were preparing to participate in the history-making event.

Adding to their problems, someone had stolen their rent money. And if they didn't come up with something by the first of the month, they were going to be out on the street. The situation got worse after they were accused of stealing money from a white family that they cleaned house for.

Alfa, 12, and Zinnia, 15, try to solve the mystery. They start by compiling a list of suspicious characters, including their elderly and forgetful great-grandmother. The two rely on their wits, intelligence, and patience to not only survive in racist Montgomery but to expose the thieves.

Author Hariette Gillem Robinet grew up in the segregated South. In Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues, her characters suffer the same indignities and humiliation at the hands of racist whites that was visited upon the author during the 1950s.

Weary but resilient, the Merryfields "put up their dukes" in a nonviolent way to fight against racism. Alfa even makes up a song about the boycott: "Oh, I'm singing the bus-rider blues/The Alabama bus-rider blues./Oh, I got me a feeling, deep down inside,/It ain't never gonna be the same again."

Robinet's Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues is a page-turning mystery, infused with history lessons, painful truths, and surprising humor. --L.J.

Cassie's Word Quilt Written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold, Knopf, January 2002 $13.95, ISBN 0-375-81200-8

In Cassie's Word Quilt, the title character takes beginning readers on a tour of her living room, bedroom, neighborhood, school and Tar Beach--the rooftop where Cassie's family has picnics. Each illustration of Cassie is bordered by Faith Ringgold's patchwork quilt.

Children learn the words for nine objects featured in different rooms of Cassie's house or in her neighborhood. Each word and object appears on a panel in a nine-paneled quilt. A lively colored, two-page spread incorporates the nine words. For example, children can point and say the word for the object they find in Cassie's bedroom--dresser, pillow, doll, etc. Each object in the room is labeled.

Ringgold, who is an artist and author of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Tar Beach, has created an engaging primer for children as young as 6 months to 4 years to get them started on the path to reading. Young readers who have not yet met Cassie, the main character in Tar Beach, will joyfully embark on this adventure with their parents and teachers. --L.J.

Handbook for Boys: A novel by Walter Dean Myers, HarperCollins, May 2002 $15.95, ISBN 0-060-29146-X

Kevin got caught smoking weed, and Jimmy assaulted a classmate. Faced with either going to a juvenile detention center or being "scared straight" by a neighborhood know-it-all, the two teens choose the latter. Set in Harlem, Kevin and Jimmy are sentenced to work at Duke's Barber Shop, where the owner and his old cronies lecture the boys about their behavior. They share stories about those who paid dearly for making the wrong choices. As part of their "scared straight" tactics, the old men parade a group of anti-role models in front of the boys.

Just in case Duke's strategy misses the mark, he's come up with a list of rules that he believes will help any urban kid succeed in life: define what success means to you, find out how to attain your idea of success, and work hard toward your goal.

Myers, an award-winning author who has written many books for urban boys, weaves together a sad but true tale that depicts the challenges that many inner-city kids face each day. The author's realistic characters are well-crafted, and he peppers their dialogue with the vernacular of the day.

Handbook for Boys: A Novel will hopefully inspire young boys to choose a wiser path when it comes to their future. While Myers' knowledgeable elder statesmen can seem a bit preachy and heavy-handed at times, the book is an important one for parents and teachers to share with their kids.--L.J.

Traditional African American Arts & Activities by Sonya Kimble-Ellis, Illustrations by Gary Estime John Wiley & Sons, February 2002 $12.95, ISBN 0-471-41046-2

Sonya Kimble-Ellis' book Traditional African American Arts & Activities introduces kids of all ages to a wide range of African and African-American traditions, games and historical figures. The book is divided into six chapters: Celebrations, Traditions, Crafts, Games, Culture, and Soul Food/Caribbean Cuisine. Each chapter includes fun and easy-to-follow directions for a variety of activities. Young readers can make picnic baskets to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the day (June 19, 1865) Texas slaves were informed that slavery had ended. Traditionally African Americans in many states celebrate the holiday by having a picnic. In other chapters, kids learn how to make African tribal masks, write their own rap lyrics, and fry up a plate of plantains.

In the author's beautifully crafted book, young readers learn that many of the activities they take for granted, such as tie-dyeing and cornrowing, date back to our African ancestors. Other traditions like storytelling and quilting evolved during slavery. For example, slaves made quilts out of old scraps of fabric to keep warm during the winter.

Kimble-Ellis' broad view of African and African-American heritage reinforces what readers already know about their culture, while introducing them to our music and literary traditions, as well as many obscure crafts and games.--L.J.

Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia, HarperCollins, May 2002 $15.95, ISBN 0-668-16245-2

Thulani, a 16-year-old Jamaican-American, doesn't think much of his life. His mother died of cancer, and he lives with his cold, older brother and nosy sister-in-law. He has no real goals to speak of. The only things that give Thulani pleasure are the pigeons he cares for on the roof of his family's Brooklyn brownstone.

While on the roof one day, Thulani witnesses the rape of a young Haitian girl, Ysa. He manages to scare off her attackers, then helps her home.

Soon after, Thulani becomes concerned about the girl's health and well-being. He secretly checks up on her, following her around the neighborhood until he works up the courage to approach her. Gradually and cautiously the two become friends and eventually grow to care for one another.

Rita Williams-Garcia's Every Time a Rainbow Dies is a challenging and gritty tale for young adults. The award-winning author takes on mature subject matters: death, rape and a loving sexual relationship.

She powerfully illustrates the complex emotions that Ysa experiences, from shame to pain to anger. While Thulani helps Ysa work through her feelings, Ysa helps Thulani get past his grief over his mother's death and make plans for his future.

Every Time a Rainbow Dies is a brave and daring work that illustrates the healing power of love.--L.J.

Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People by Carole Boston Weatherford, Philomel Books, January 2002 $17.99, ISBN 0-399-23726-7

Carole Boston Weatherford's Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People takes readers on a journey that spans 400 years of African-American history. In 29 poems, the author touches on every aspect of the black experience, from Mother Africa to the slave trade to the Civil Rights era. Weatherford's stunning collection follows a historical timeline that begins with a plea:
 Remember the bridge/
 that your ancestors crossed,/
 the seat that was spilled/
 and the lives that were lost ...
 The journey continues,/
 the bridge still holds strong,/
 hands reach across water,/
 hearts sing a new song.

Weatherford's poems are mostly rhymed and each is accompanied by a striking vintage photo or illustration.

While readers will be familiar with much of the book's subject matter--Harriet Tubman, soul food, Martin Luther King, Jr.--Weatherford also crafts poems about the art of basketweaving, Black Indians, and grocery peddlers

Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People is a unique and lyrical guide through black history that readers of all ages will cherish and learn to appreciate for its poetry.--L.J.

Lynda Jones is a BIBR associate editor covering the children's books department. She's a contributing editor at Nickelodeon, a humor and general-interest magazine for young readers. She is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in several publications, including Essence, Time Out New York, The Village Voice and The Source. The Harlem native is the author of four nonfiction books for children, including the award-winning Kids Around the World Celebrate: The Best Feasts and Festivals From Around the World (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1999). She was also a contributing editor and co-author of SoulStyle: Black Women Redefining the Color of Fashion (Rizzoli/Universe 2000).
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Title Annotation:Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2002
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