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The Undefeated

4.69  ·  Rating details ·  4,468 ratings  ·  1,075 reviews
This poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world's greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offe ...more
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published April 2nd 2019 by Versify
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All year I have been reading about civil rights in honor of the 100th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s birth. The year is about to end, but I think I found the best civil rights book yet. The Undefeated was nominated for Goodreads best picture book in 2019. With a collaboration between Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, two American treasures, going in I knew I was in for a treat. Preconceived notions or not, they did not disappoint.

What I would write here would not do Alexander justice. I do no
Stunning and unforgettable. Kwame Alexander’s poem accompanied by Kadir Nelson’s illustrations is a magical combination of thoughtful art. You can download a free audio version of his poem at, access code UNDEFEATED

Enjoy it yourself. Donate copies to schools. Ask your library to buy it. Read it to your kids’ classrooms. Whatever you do, revel in it, ponder it and then share it. And keep on sharing it.
Dave Schaafsma
My family reads all the Goodreads-award-nominated picture books every year. This is book #10 (of more than 20) of 2019, and we thought it was good. It's not a narrative, but a kind of poetic depiction from Kwame Alexander of a range of "undefeated" African-Americans across history, beautifully illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The illustrations don't identify the people, but this comes with a short description of them in an appendix.

Hank (13): 3. Sending a good message for everyone but too repetitive
Kwame wrote this poem when Barack Obama was elected to office. It is a poem, a powerful poem, about the tenacity and strength of heritage of the African American. He wanted to make sure that things left out of history books like slavery and Jim Crow are not forgotten and he wanted to show the strength of character so many people have had to make it into our consciousness. Michael Brown of Ferguson MO is mentioned as are the great Jazz artists and athletes in history.

It is an ode to a people who
Kids learn American history through a process of osmosis, long before they’re taught the basics in elementary school. They pick up bits and pieces of it in a million different places, but never in any kind of a linear fashion. Thanks goodness WWI and WWII were consecutive, since otherwise my children would have no idea which happened when. Of course, when it comes to the history of race in America, the disjointed nature of what children learn is complicated incredibly by any number of factors. I ...more
Tina Haigler
Nov 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kids, poetry
This book is a poem about African American history, with accompanying illustrations. It definitely had an emotional impact, but I do wish it taught more. It has info about the people in the pictures, but it is located in the very back of the book. I think it would've had been more dynamic if the info was actually on the pages, with the line of poetry that it refers to, rather than being added as an afterthought that is all too easy to miss. As an adult I'll read the back of the book, but I don't ...more
Whispering Stories
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Book Reviewed on

The Undefeated is a poetry picture book featuring the words of Kwame Alexander together with the watercolour illustrations of Kadir Nelson.

The poem was initially written by Kwame for his new daughter back in 2008 and for Ex-President Obama too. The words are powerful and are made more poignant by the beautiful illustrations that adorn nearly every page. As daft as it might sound the one page that didn’t have any illustrations felt the most powerful out o
Update: January 2021 -- Even more powerful in the wake of 2020. A prescient book.

Original Review:
Rich oil portraits by Kadir Nelson illustrate this ode to African Americans past, present and future by poet Kwame Alexander. A minimal approach to page design -- lots of white space, as Alexander puts it -- emphasizes the power, beauty, and sometimes, the terrible impact, of each painting with only a few words or lines of poetry.

This is for the unafraid.
The audacious ones
who carried the red, whi
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is an illustrated poem, written by poet/author Kwame Alexander and illustrated by the talented Kadir Nelson. It is an ode to black Americans through history: both the "dreamers" and the "doers," who have made a difference, despite the many injustices endured and challenges faced. I was disappointed in myself for not recognizing more of these important contributors to social change and justice, and would have liked the people identified on each page (since the book was oversized anyway. ...more
Jon Nakapalau
Powerful and poetic look at black Americans who always remained undefeated in their hearts.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Simply beautiful, the poem is great and the illustrations are amazing and powerful. A great book to read during Black History Month and throughout the year.
If Kwame Alexander’s thought provoking prose doesn’t get you, Kadir Nelson’s illustrations will. Tears on this one. Couldn’t hold them back. No words, just read this please.
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The poem is dedicated to the African Americans who were undefeated, unforgettable, survived, died, undenied, unflappable, shined, and marched. It reminds us of the unspeakable acts committed against blacks and the talent, dreams, and bravery from the slaves to the celebrated. Black lives matter to all of us. Let us celebrate their rich heritage and endurance through this prose of the past and the future.

For a free audio version of the poem, go to and enter UNDEFEATED a
Oct 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
With the passing of Walter Dean Myers in 2014, a question arose: who was the heir apparent to his literary legacy? Myers wrote proudly about black America from Colonial times to twenty-first century urban New York, yet wasn't afraid to challenge its culture where needed. His sophisticated understanding of art, philosophy, history, and social dynamics infused his writing with depth, emotion, and originality. Who could fill his shoes? Some might suggest Nikki Grimes, Marilyn Nelson, Derrick Barnes ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Kadir Nelson Fans / Readers Looking for Picture-Books About the African-American Experience
Celebrated poet and author Kwame Alexander, whose children's novel in verse, The Crossover , was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2015, presents a "love letter to black America" in this new picture-book, published as part of his new "Versify" imprint with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His poem, which highlights many heroic and noteworthy people of African-American descent - people from many different professions, who lived in different times - is an ode to "the dreamers and doers" that have left the ...more
Cheryl Gladfelter
This book. Kwame's amazing poetry with Kadir's stirring illustrations will leave you with a lot of feelings. I can't describe how powerful this book is, other than to say you must read it and feel it. ...more
I cried in the middle of the library while reading this book.
Jenna Friebel
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
2020 Newbery honor, my committee year!
Two artists create a masterpiece.

The first few times I held this book and opened to a random page, I knew it and I needed a bit of solitude to become acquainted. Too easily distracted in a crowd, I didn't want my attention divided from the experience. A poem of American history, illustrated to ring its message.
Rod Brown
Nov 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Goodreads Choice Awards Project: Read as many of the Best Picture Book nominees as possible. 3 to go!

I'm not a fan of poetry, and this one fell flat the first time through reading it myself. I tried the free audio download offered online and was much more impressed. The art is gorgeous, and short bios of the prominent African Americans featured in it are in the end matter. It may be a bit of a heavy read for young children, but is obviously a good way to introduce some huge topics when they are
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Words by Kwame Alexander and pictures by Kadir Nelson combine to form a perfect tribute to the courageous struggles of black Americans, through time, for justice, for equality, for a good life. Children and adults alike are left deeply moved after reading this powerful story of strength and persistence and endurance in the face of decades of torment and hatred and violence. This is a book that will be read and reread and shared again and again.

Karen Witzler
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
2020 Caldecott Medal for Kadir Nelson's photograhic inspired large, in your face, and beautiful illustrations.

A simple poem moving through the history of African-Americans with three middle pages of "unspeakable" and continuing tribulations. Accessible and curiosity sparking for Kindergarten and up.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Powerful and important, this book is a must read. Kadir Nelson's illustrations reinforce the impact of Kwame Alexander's words. An amazing collaboration and a necessary purchase for all homes and libraries. Highly recommended for grades 3 & up.

F&G provided by author.
Outstanding and brilliant.
Jan 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
As a work of art, it's beautiful.

I think it's more for older readers than the younger picture book audience, though. As a picture book for young readers, it found it a bit lacking, which surprised me (I know this won the Caldecott and I'm a big fan of Kadir Nelson--his art here is amazing.) Perhaps I my expectations were too high. I think that picture books featuring characters who are feeling and doing in the context of an actual story will probably be easier for little ones to relate to and re
Ami Pendley
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The poem is perfect. The illustrations are stunning. A powerful tribute to black genius, strength, and resilience without shying away from the truth of our history and our present. A must have for every library.
So much passion, sadness, and hope in these words and illustrations. This book is one to pair with some historical fiction and biographical texts to help students see how authors can bring out the theme of perseverance in many powerful ways.
Molly Dettmann
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A powerful and moving poem, accented with gorgeous, vivid, and detailed artwork. You have to read the afterward and the glossary, but only after giving yourself time to really let Kwame’s message sink in, only after you have a second to really pour over the illustrations. Completely deserving of its many awards and my only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Love the illustrations!
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Mock Caldecott 2021: * 2020 Randolph Caldecott Medal 25 91 Feb 06, 2020 05:29AM  

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Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children ...more

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