Book Review – The Undefeated

June 2022, I spent a few days in Orlando, Florida for the Learning Sciences International Building Expertise Educators’ Conference. The conference closed out with a keynote by author Kwame Alexander. One of the books he wrote was The Undefeated. This book is a New York Times bestseller, won the Caldecott Medal, and is a Newberry Honor Book.

Kwame Alexander – LSI Conference – June 24, 2022

I thoroughly enjoyed the words he shared, but what I loved the most was how he recited poetry, his and others. Some people can write, but they cannot recite. He didn’t read from cue cards or a slide deck; he recited from memory with the right enunciation and pauses at the right places to draw the listener in.

Before he wrapped up his time in front of the crowd of educators, he displayed the pages of The Undefeated and recited the words to us. The title was inspired by a quote from Maya Angelou which Alexander included in the afterword of the book.

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose.”

Maya Angelou

I smiled when Alexander shared part of this quote with the audience because earlier in his presentation after he recited a few poems, I thought back to an event I attended as an English education major at Purdue University where I had the privilege of hearing Maya Angelou speak and recite poetry. The way he recited poetry reminded me of the way I heard Angelou recite poetry.

I was filled with joy as Alexander read his book and when I automatically recognized references when he recited, “The audacious ones who carried the red, white, and Weary Blues” which is a reference to Langston Hughes’ poem the “Weary Blues,” or when he said, “This is for the unbelievable. The We Real Cool ones” which is a reference to the poem “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks.

When he finished, I felt inspired to keep pushing in my personal life, and I wondered where this book was when I was a kid. I needed a book like this, but even as an adult, this book had a positive impact.

Also, after the afterword in the back of the book, there is a section that explains the historical figures and events featured in the book which provides many opportunities for students (and adults) to extend their learning.

Even though some places have banned this book, I assert all children should read this book, especially Black children.

Rating: 5/5

Suggested GradesK-5
Lexile475
Guided Reading LevelK
Accelerated Reader Level2.6

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