“A Fist for Joe Louis and Me” by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, 2019, Sleeping Bear Press, 40 pages, $17.99
Your teacher says “no fighting on the playground.”
No pushing, no smacking and definitely no hitting. It’s not nice, he says. That’s what bullies do, you know. But as you’ll see in “A Fist for Joe Louis and Me” by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, sometimes fists and gloves equals a fistful of friendship.
It was the best of traditions: every Friday evening, right after work, Gordy’s dad gave Gordy boxing lessons. After that, they’d eat dinner together and listen to the fights on the local radio station. It was especially good when Joe Louis was in the ring.
But then “times got hard,” people started talking about Germany, and Gordy’s dad lost his job. The Friday night tradition stopped for awhile, and Gordy’s mom had to take in some tailoring to pay for the family’s groceries. One night, when Mr. Rubinstein, whose family left Germany to escape the Nazis, stopped to drop off the work, his son, Ira, came along. That was when Gordy learned that other children admired Joe Louis, too.
But Ira didn’t know the first thing about boxing. He didn’t even know what “dukes” were, so Gordy had some teaching to do. Every time Mr. Rubinstein dropped off some work for Gordy’s mom, Gordy and Ira practiced boxing out in the alley. Gordy taught Ira how to keep from getting hit too hard, and they had fun pretending. They even made up boxing names for themselves.
Weeks later, that practice and pretend came in handy when a real bully came after Ira. Gordy stepped into the fray because he knew Joe Louis wouldn’t let Ira fight alone, but hitting someone in anger made him sick.
Was that how Joe Louis felt?
That evening, Ira and his father came over to listen to Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling on the radio. For years to come, it would be called The Fight of the Century, but in the end, it wouldn’t last long: just a little over 2 minutes.
Its effect on two little boys, however, would last for many years.
Considering all that’s happened in the recent past, “A Fist for Joe Louis and Me” couldn’t be more timely.
Using as a backdrop an event that made history nearly 90 years ago, author Trinka Hakes Noble tells a story of a young African American boy and his friendship with a Jewish boy. It’s a tale set during the Depression when anti-Semitism and racism made poverty seem a little bit sharper, but Noble’s characters don’t complain; instead, they face problems together, which leaves behind the idea that we can find common ground and mutual interest, if we’re open to them. That, and artwork by Nicole Tadgell, make it an appealing message for any age.
This book is meant for young students, but be sure to go over the author’s note with your child, found at the end. It adds meaning to the story inside “A Fist for Joe Louis and Me,” and it makes this a book your child will fight to own.