Eric Velasquez


Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive

Before World War II, a starter’s pistol fired the first shot in our battle against the Nazis

Jesse Owens grew up during the time of Jim Crow laws, but segregation never slowed him down. After setting world records for track in high school and college, he won a slot on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. That year, the Olympics were in Berlin, then controlled by the Nazis, and Hitler was certain they would be a chance to prove to the world that Aryans were superior to all other races. But the triumph of Jesse’s will helped him run through any barrier, winning four gold medals and the hearts of millions, setting two world records, and proving the Nazi dictator unmistakably wrong.

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens

The story of Jesse Owens comes alive for young readers with Carole Boston Weatherford’s award-winning free verse poetry. Eric Velasquez tackles this challenging subject with pastels—his first use of them in twenty years—and the results are both heart-stopping and immediate.

Jesse Owens

From Publishers Weekly
*Starred Review* Weatherford (Moses) addresses her poetic tribute to Jesse Owens's remarkable performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the athlete himself: "Go from cotton fields to city sidewalks,/ from sickly child to keen competitor,/ from second-class citizen to first-place finish./ Go, Jesse, go. Trounce Jim Crow./ Run as fast as your feet can fly,/ as far as your dreams will reach." This allows the author to weave in subtle references and to make readers feel like privileged insiders (e.g., "find new track shoes/ to replace the ones you lost in New York"). The narrative follows Owens to Berlin, where Nazi flags line the streets, and beyond the city, to sobering images that Owens, and spectators of the Games, were "not meant to see"—the concentration camps. Hitler's presence casts a dark shadow over Owens's brilliance on the track ("Hitler does not want your kind here,/ does not believe you belong./ Prove him wrong"). After describing the fourth of the athlete's gold medal–clinching events, Weatherford asks, "Who'd have thought/ that a sharecropper's son,/ the grandson of slaves,/ would crush Hitler's pride?" In the tale's final victorious note, Owens rides "like a prince" in the lead car of a Manhattan ticker-tape parade honoring his team. An endnote provides facts about Owens's life before and after his Olympic feats. Sometimes calling to mind old-time photographs, Velasquez's (The Other Mozart, reviewed above) pleasingly grainy pastels easily convey the movement and speed, determination and triumph at the core of Owens's uplifting story. Ages 6-11.


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