Monday, November 5, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: The Greatest: Muhammad Ali

Nonfiction Monday is a weekly meme in the Kidlitosphere that invites bloggers to read and review a nonfiction book on Monday as a way to promote high-quality nonfiction titles.  Each week, a different blogger "hosts" Nonfiction Monday and provides a roundup of all the posts.  This week Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Booktalking.

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers

One of my greatest failings as a LibrariYAn is that I have not yet read a lot of classic children's and young adult literature.  I blame it on R.L. Stine and V.C. Andrews.  Those years I spent reading their books in middle school would probably have been better served reading books like The Phantom Tollbooth (no, haven't read it; yes, it's on my list) and Walter Dean Myers' Monster (which won the inaugural Printz award, but, in my defense, wasn't published until 2001, when I was in college).  But while I haven't read Monster, I have read another of Amabassador Myers books.  Though most noted for his prolific authoring of urban fiction, he's also written a memoir and also a few biographies, including one about boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Back when I was in college, I read a biography on Muhammad Ali for my "Psychology of Personality" class. I can't recall which book we read, but I remember being captivated by Ali's personality.  Born into poverty as Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali is a true self-made man.  What he lacked in formal education, he made up for with ambition.  It was he who called himself "The Greatest," before anyone else did.  He dreamed of becoming a champion, ran his mouth off about how good he was and how badly he'd defeat others, and then...he did it.  He was everything that the world wasn't ready for in the 1960s: a cocky black man who felt secure in his skin, didn't ask anyone for anything, and held true to his beliefs.  After winning gold in the 1960 Olympics, he went pro and easily rose to the top of the ranks.  At the same time, he converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Ali and became an outspoken advocate for blacks.  After his refusal to fight in the war in Vietnam on religious grounds was refused, he faced imprisonment and was stripped both of his title and his eligibility to box for several years.  Myers so perfectly captures the courage and fortitude that Ali displayed.  He would not be ignored and he certainly wouldn't stop speaking up and speaking out, no matter the cost.  By weaving together the strands of Ali's religious beliefs, political activism, athleticism and stubborn self-confidence, Myers creates a biography that looks at his whole person.  A tightly written, engaging and informative introduction to Muhammad Ali, The Greatest is the perfect book to give a reluctant middle school reader - especially if he/she struggles academically, has outsider status and/or loves action and adventure.

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