A Fist for Joe Louis and Me

A Fist for Joe Louis and Me
Author: Trinka Hakes Noble
Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Sleeping Bear Press
Ages 4-9

A Fist for Joe Louis and Me explores these questions and more as it follows the story of two boys in Detroit dur­ing the Great Depres­sion.

What does it mean to be a friend? What makes a hero? What is loyalty? 

A Fist for Joe Louis and Me explores these questions and more as it follows the story of two boys in Detroit dur­ing the Great Depres­sion. Gordy, an African American boy, and his father, an auto worker, idolize Joe Louis, a world famous boxer. Gordy’s father would come home every Friday and teach Gordy how to box. Together they would follow Friday Night Fights on the radio. 

His father loses his job, and his mom takes up sewing for a Jewish woman who had fled Nazi Germany with her family. Ira, the tailor’s son, and Gordy strike up a friendship when they discover a shared love of boxing. Over time, Ira and Gordy’s fathers also strike up a shared bond over their own love of boxing, and the patriotic turn it takes, as Joe Louis is poised to fight German boxer, Max Schmeling. As Ira’s dad points out:

“They’re calling it the Fight of the Century. But it feels like a fight between America and Nazi Germany, no?” 

Ira and Gordy encounter a bully at school. When it becomes clear that Ira’s attempts to avoid conflict are for naught, Gordy decides that he must stand up for his friend, like Joe Louis would. For a book about a boxer, I give credit to Noble as she portrays the fight itself as a necessity to stand up to the aggressor, without glorifying the violence behind it. In fact, she has Gordy dancing around the bully, the calming voice of his hero Joe Louis guiding him, not exactly the depiction of toxic masculinity I was expecting.

Tadgell’s illustrations are masterful. They beautifully evoke the era of the book from the haunting images of the Great Depression, to the glimmer of hope that shines through at the end. Her characters’ expressive faces speak volumes through the book and were particularly striking.

Noble definitely simplifies the big heavy subjects in this book, but they should serve as great jumping off points for further, age-appropriate discussions. Adults will recognize the racial and ethnic undercurrents that run through the the book, and the parallels that Noble is drawing between Jewish treatment in Nazi Germany and the African American experience in America, but the kids will miss most of that unless it is explained. Children will be drawn to this tale for the action. 

I think the ideas of loyalty, of standing up to bullies, not staying silent in the face of aggression towards others, and the idea of having strong moral convictions are universal truths and timeless lessons that come shining through, and might be just the thing our kids need to hear today.

Sleeping Bear Press (Support an Independent Bookstore)
Sleeping Bear Press (Amazon)*

More books for this Age Group can be found here.

My thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.

Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.

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