The first time I read The Undefeated, I knew I’d be using it for multiple purposes in my classroom. Author Kwame Alexander wrote the poem that became this beautiful picture book after the birth of his daughter. He wrote it to remind her to never give up and was inspired by the words of Maya Angelou, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”
“Think about what was particularly powerful to you in this text,” I silently counted up to ten with my fingers, “Now turn and tell your partner.”
“That people died,” Beth told Maria.
“That they are survivors,” M.J. told Harley.
Harley in turn said, “For me it was Martin Luther King Jr. and giving respect to Blacks Lives Matter.”
“All the people,” Ash said, “they were all powerful on each page. Especially the boxing guy.”
As the group came back together after our chime, I asked, “What do you notice about Kwame Alexander’s language choice?”
The first student I called on talked about how he used repetition with, “This is for the unspeakable.”
The next student said, “He chose a lot of words with ‘un.’ I wonder why he did that.”
When I first read the poem with the words undefeated, unforgettable, undeniable and unafraid played on my tongue. ‘Un’ is a great kick-off for the list of affixes I’ll teach this year in fourth grade. I wrote the twelve ‘un’ words from the book on sentence strips and partnered my writers. I showed them my model for unflappable and the definition “showing calmness in hard times, not overexcited.” They spread out around the room to write their own definitions, check them by the dictionary and return to a sharing circle.
My favorite was Jose’s for unlimited. The definition read, “No limits, no bounds, no restrictions. She has unlimited patience.” I don’t think he is referring to his teacher, but one can hope.
The Undefeated will come back out when we need a mentor text for sentence fluency and will be part of our Black History readings. I plan to mine the historical author notes on who or what event is brought to life on each of the pages illustrated by Kadir Nelson. I’m grateful to add this powerful book to my collection knowing it can be used again and again.