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The Undefeated

4.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,744 ratings  ·  453 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, ...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
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.
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
David 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
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. ...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
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, white, and Weary Blues
on the battlefield
to save an imperfect Union.

The book just came out, Spring
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, childrens
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
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
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.
Jon Nakapalau
Powerful and poetic look at black Americans who always remained undefeated in their hearts.
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.
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.

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.
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.
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cried in the middle of the library while reading this book.
Outstanding and brilliant.
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
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really beautiful. Breathtaking, honestly. I got literal chills reading this. I'm a fan of both artists individually, but there is something extra special about their pairing here. Alexander's powerful and pointed words, that do so much with a pregnant pause, truly come alive when accompanied by Nelson's characteristically gorgeous portraiture that, as always, shines its sublime light on Black folks both famous and not.
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.
This beautiful book moved me so deeply. The rhythm and cadence of the poem are expertly paired with the page turns and illustrations, and in one case, an incredibly moving and jarring lack of illustrations. I hope the Caldecott AND Newbery committees will be talking abut this one.
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best picture books I have read in a long time. Kwame Alexander's Afterword and the historical figures and events listed in order of their reference in the poem offers people the opportunity to dive further into the important and sometimes untold history of America.
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.
Edward Sullivan
A stunning celebration of black pride and history through Alexander's verse and Kadir Nelson's detailed, oil painting illustrations.
Christie Angleton
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was privileged to hear Kwame Alexander read this to a group of teachers, librarians, and kids at a recent conference - and it was EVERYTHING.
Sofiya Pasternack
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Powerful, stunning, and beautifully illustrated. So many of these pages will force you to stop and take a breath before you go on.
Mrs. Krajewski
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just, wow. Unforgettable.
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fb-group-books
This book is wonderful and very powerful. I had chill by the third spread. Well worth the time.
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Mock Caldecott 2020: * 2020 Randolph Caldecott Medal 5 28 4 hours, 55 min ago  

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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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