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Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson

Press: Roaring Brook Press; First Edition edition (June 22, 2010)
Publication Date:2010
Author Name:Smith, Charles R., Jr.; Evans, Shane W.;


A powerful telling of the first African-American heavyweight champion, this story portrays how a shy, fearful young man learned to fight back and become one of history's more compelling personalities. 
Children will be awed and inspired by the boxer's energy and drive which is duly reflected through the combination of rhythmic text and bold artwork.

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. 
Grade 2-5 Art and text work powerfully together to tell the story of the first African-American heavyweight champion.
Smith begins by telling readers that Black Jack was his OWN man.
These bold words skillfully set the tone for the tale of how a shy, fearful young man learned to fight back and become one of history's more compelling personalities.
Books play a role in the young man's development biographies of Napoleon and Isaac Murphy (an African-American jockey) inspired Johnson to become a great man himself.
Smith's brisk, rhythmic text captures the boxer's energy and vigor.
For example, But what Jack wanted most/was to be a great man/so he challenged the times./But it was Jack who was challenged/when he faced the color line.
Evans's illustrations perfectly complement the text, using bold colors and strong brushstrokes to convey the athlete's larger-than-life personality.
An endnote entitled And Then What Happened? provides an overview of the rest of Johnson's life.
This book is sure to be championed by reluctant readers with energy and restlessness just like Johnson's, but it is a strong selection for library and classroom read-alouds as well.
Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
All rights reserved.


“Charles Smith's poetry surges along, with a forceful rhythm that joins ballad and rap, as he follows "a mighty, fightin' man," challenging the color line as well as individual opponents around the world. 
Shane Evans' illustrations make Johnson's body a monument to intelligence and power.” ―Chicago Tribune“This book is sure to be championed by reluctant readers with energy and restlessness just like Johnson's, but it is a strong selection for library and classroom read-alouds as well.” ―Starred, School Library Journal“A rousing story, one that celebrates Johnson's dignity, pride, and determination.” ―Starred, Publishers Weekly“The poetry is interspersed with quotes of the time, and illustrator Evans uses oil paint and ink to depict the somber, determined fighter, with collage elements of newspaper articles, maps, and crowds in the backgrounds to set the story firmly in time and place.” ―Horn Book“The elegant simplicity and rat-a-tat rhythms land some stunners .
enhanced by Evans' lithe and swaggering artwork, which lends a tremendous visual charisma, grace, and grandeur.” ―Starred, Booklist“Through poetry, quotations and some prose, the life of one of boxing's most important stars is celebrated, from his youth as the victim of bullies to the 1908 championship bout against a white fighter that made him a legend.” ―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

is a celebrated author, poet, and photographer.
He has created more than twenty books, including Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali, a 2008 Corretta Scott King Honor Book and a 2008 Norman Sugarman Best Biography Honor Book and Chameleon, his first novel for young adults.
He currently lives in Poughkeepsie, New York with his wife Gillian and three kids, Sabine, Adrian and Sebastian.
SHANE EVANS has illustrated numerous books for children, including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner Shanna's Ballerina Show.
He attributes much of his influence to his travels to Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and much of the United States.
He is a firm believer in education and creative development for all people.


Children's Books,Biographies,Sports & Recreation,Multicultural,Geography & Cultures,Multicultural Stories,African-American

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Comment List (Total:5)

  •     Jack Johnson was the first Black Heavyweight Champion of the world. He lived his life unapologetically and did exactly what he wanted to do. He loved fighting, fast cars and fine living. The illustrations are magnificent and match the incredible story of Black Jack. Great story for children that love sports, especially boxing. 5 stars

  •     Yes Jack Johnson was a great fighter. However, the oft-told myth that Canada's Tommy Burns was somehow afraid of the bigger man is here paraded again. Burns, who had an ego as big as his fighter's heart, feared no man, even Big Jim Jeffries, who even Johnson had a healthy respect for. Tommy was a showman, the first heavyweight champion to manage his own affairs, he was well aware of the value of the heavyweight title and was intent on being well-paid for defending it. He saw Johnson as someone he could beat and someone who would help make him very wealthy. This book tends to downgrade the man who was willing to defy the racist US sporting press and give a coloured man a shot at the greatest prize in sports.

  •     Born to former slaves, Jack, Arthur John Johnson, had a childhood that shaped him into the fighting champion he was to become. After being targeted by bullies Jack was urged to fight back.In lyrical lines that sometimes sooth, sometimes stir up a laugh, and sometimes make you feel like you're bouncing around the fighting ring, readers learn of Jack's journey to the top.Lines of color stop Jack from being a world champion fighter, until someone will agree to fight him.Excellent read aloud!

  •     Greatest American boxer.

  •     Black Jack was a BRAVE man.Black Jack was a STRONG man.Black Jack was a Brave, Strong, FIGHTIN' man.But mostly, Black Jack was hisOWN man.Black Jack was born in 1878 in Texas. His name was Arthur John Johnson and his parents were freed slaves who taught him pride and gave him the will to better himself. He worked all sorts of jobs to make a living, but what suited him was boxing. He became a good boxer, a great boxer with the style. And he set his sites on the Boxing Championship, but there was only one problem. The white boxers wouldn't fight him.This book personalizes bigotry and prejudice in a tangible way that children can understand. It portrays Black Jack in a positive light, and then throws what seems to be insurmountable adversity in his way. Leaving prejudice aside, it gives children an example of what it means to want to succeed badly enough that you'll fight long and hard for it. And rewards them by showing them how Black Jack fought 'the system' and made the world rethink it's old way of doing things and thinking about people... when he became the World's First Black Heavyweight Champion.[Children will, of course, need to be reminded that his victory was only a piece of the forces that worked together to create change and that the change took a long time.]THE SKINNY:::Great artwork. It's accessible and interesting.I never could quite get the hang of Charles Smith Jr's prose, but it didn't really matter. He conjured up a great story and clearly made his points.I read this book to my 8 and 10 year-old children. I think it could be read to much younger children, who even if they don't understand prejudice yet, can understand that the idea of working for what you want.Would be a great addition to a history unit.AR 5.3Pam T~mom/bloggerbooksforkids-reviews


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