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From homeless to millionaire


No matter how old you are or what grade you’re in, you know what happens when you fight at school.

Somebody gets hurt, for sure.  Somebody might even get sent home.  Because fighting on the playground isn’t good behavior, your mom and dad have probably spent lots of time telling you not to hit people.

But there are times when hitting is okay. When you’re wearing special gloves and someone watches out for safety, punching – called boxing – can make heroes. In the new book “Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World” (c.2007, Schwartz & Wade / Random House, $16.99 / $21.99 Canada, 40 pages) by Jonah Winter & Francois Roca, you’ll read about the life of a real champ.
Long ago, there was Jack Johnson, who was the first black champion in the Kingdom of Boxing.  After him, Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis was king, and Sonny Liston after Louis.  But the Kingdom wasn’t yet complete.

When the heavens opened up, a great man appeared. He was called Cassius Clay. Clay told everybody that he would someday be the Greatest of All Time.

Talking, in fact, was one of the things Clay did best.  He talked and he talked. In front of microphones, inside the ring, Clay talked. He made up poems, he bragged, and he teased with words. People wondered if he was ever going to be quiet.

But it was all a way to make everyone remember him.  When Clay defeated Sonny Liston, nobody would ever forget the name Cassius Clay.

But then Clay did something that shocked everyone to silence.  He said that he was changing that famous name. “Clay” was a white man who had enslaved Cassius’ ancestors.  The Champion of the World was embracing Islam and would now be called Muhammad Ali.

Soon, though, Ali’s fight would be for more than just a boxing belt. Ali was asked to go to war, and he refused. He was arrested and sent to jail. Instead of fighting opponents in the ring, he had to fight for his right to box.

Written in a sort of fairy-tale form, “Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World” is a good introduction for kids who are fascinated by wrestling, “American Gladiators” and boxing.  Author Jonah Winter introduces children to some of the sport’s greats, and he explains what made Muhammad Ali the beloved athlete that he is.  I wasn’t crazy about Winter’s parable-like fairy-tale style of the story at first, but it’s much more palatable in subsequent readings.

What makes this book so appealing, though, are the vivid almost-photograph-like illustrations by Francois Roca.  Filled with action and emotion, even squirmy kids who don’t like to sit still for a story are going to want to look at the pictures in this book. I had to, in fact, read this book twice: once, to catch the story and once to see these incredible illustrations again.

If you’ve got a rascally 5-to-10-year-old in the house, or if your child loves physical sports, you’ll want to put this book on your shelf.  For them, “Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World” will be a big hit.