By: Diane Benjamin
The Undefeated isn’t a bad book, but it was written for 6-9 year olds according to the Amazon listing. A District 87 class of 11 year olds read it, they weren’t allowed to take a copy home.
The dust jacket claims the book is for: The unforgettable, the unafraid, and the undefeated. That is a great message to send to all kids, color doesn’t matter. This book is specifically states it is a love letter to America. The next sentence: To black America. It does mention Black Lives Matter.
The book ends with an extremely brief recap of historical figures and events featured in the book.
Under the “unspeakable” category Michael Brown is mentioned. Claim to fame: “Hands Up Don’t Shoot”. It doesn’t mention that never happened or that the officer who shot him was found justified.
Only one historical figure is mentioned under “unforgettable” – Jesse Owens. Booker T Washington is never mentioned. There is an attempt right now at re-writing his history. He was a freed slave who knew education was the key to success for black children. He went on to build 5000 schools which provided a ray of hope in the face of poverty and discrimination.
The book doesn’t mention Biddy Mason, a women born in slavery who walked to California and died a millionaire real estate investor. She used her fortune to help the poor in California regardless of race.
Mentioned are 9 athletes, 7 singers/musicians, and 8 artists. The book misses a huge opportunity to showcase blacks who changed history. At least 20 freed slaves died millionaires. Where are their stories?
If this book is being used as part of teaching black history it won’t inspire black kids to reach for the stars. Most won’t grow up to be Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Serena Williams, or Muhammad Ali. (all mentioned)
The lives of Elijah McCoy and Benjamin Benneker are inspirational. (Never heard of them?)
Frederick Douglas is pictured on the dust cover but never mentioned in the book.
A present day example of success is Carol Swain. Her life began dirt poor, education transformed her to Ivy League Professor.
Final point: Why are 11 year olds reading this simplistic book? It is a large book by size, not number of pages. It is one of those where the kids could be sitting on the floor as the teacher held the book up and read it while showing the pictures.
Education should inform, motivate, and inspire. This book could have done so much more.