The Undefeated

UndefeatedThe Undefeated
Written by Kwame Alexander, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Publisher’s Summary:
Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, 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, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.

Primary Source Pairing:
Together talented creators Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson created The Undefeated –  a book to be treasured, studied, and read again and again. Depending on the learning environment and the ages of students with whom you are working, there are many options for visual literacy lessons with this book. Use an ebook through Titlewave (single user access available) or your local public library to be able to project on a smart board or share in an online meeting. The illustrations are immaculate, and the closer the readers can see their detail, the better.

With younger students, take notice of the emotions on the faces of the people in in the illustrations. With older readers, talk about the prefix un and take notice at how frequently it is part of the text of the book. Extension opportunities abound with the list of historical figures included in the back of the book. Invite students to choose a person from the list and learn more about him or her by searching school online databases or the school library catalog.

For this primary source pairing, create a multimodal experience for students by first listening to the text of this book read by author Kwame Alexander. Information on how to get this free recording is included at the back of the printed book and ebook. Invite students to listen to the poem first, then read the book together. As time allows, encourage students to listen to the recording another time. Provide opportunities for students to reflect and share their listening and viewing experience and how they were similar to different.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Listen to Kwame Alexander reading the book.
  • Describe what you hear.
  • What do you notice first?
  • Are any words unfamiliar to you?
  • Look at the illustrations of the book and read the words again.
  • How does viewing the illustrations impact your experience reading this book?
  • Listen to Kwame Alexander reading the book one more time. How does listening to the author read the poem impact your experience reading this book?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett

Additional resource:
Book trailer: