JESSE OWENS FASTEST MAN ALIVE, by Carole B. Weatherford, Illus. by Eric Velasquez
Published December 2006
"Weatherford (Moses ) addresses her poetic tribute to Jesse Owens's remarkable performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the athlete himself: "Go from cotton fields to city sidewalks,/ from sickly child to keen competitor,/ from second-class citizen to first-place finish./ Go, Jesse, go. Trounce Jim Crow./ Run as fast as your feet can fly,/ as far as your dreams will reach." This allows the author to weave in subtle references and to make readers feel like privileged insiders (e.g., "find new track shoes/ to replace the ones you lost in New York"). The narrative follows Owens to Berlin, where Nazi flags line the streets, and beyond the city, to sobering images that Owens, and spectators of the Games, were "not meant to see"—the concentration camps. Hitler's presence casts a dark shadow over Owens's brilliance on the track ("Hitler does not want your kind here,/ does not believe you belong./ Prove him wrong"). After describing the fourth of the athlete's gold medal–clinching events, Weatherford asks, "Who'd have thought/ that a sharecropper's son,/ the grandson of slaves,/ would crush Hitler's pride?" In the tale's final victorious note, Owens rides "like a prince" in the lead car of a Manhattan ticker-tape parade honoring his team. An endnote provides facts about Owens's life before and after his Olympic feats. Sometimes calling to mind old-time photographs, Velasquez's (The Other Mozart , reviewed above) pleasingly grainy pastels easily convey the movement and speed, determination and triumph at the core of Owens's uplifting story. Ages 6-11."
-Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"This soaring tribute to Owens reserves biographical details for the afterword, focusing instead on his Olympics experience from arrival in Berlin to triumphant ticker-tape parade back in New York. In free verse that occasionally verges on the hyperbolic (“Who knew that you would trample / German might like a clod of dust / in a field of glory?”), Weatherford describes each event, noting Hitler’s hostility but also the support that Owens received, both from the crowds and from fellow athletes like Luz Long, his German competitor in the broad jump. Using pastels on rough paper, Velasquez mixes scenes of the muscular Owens in action with vignettes of other significant moments, aptly capturing the drama and excitement of the occasion. A pulse-pounding, if occasionally over-the-top, alternative to the more conventional likes of David A. Adler’s Picture Book of Jesse Owens (1992) or Patricia and Frederick McKissack’s Jesse Owens, Olympic Star (rev. ed., 2001). Perfunctory reading list appended."