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Becoming Muhammed Ali

by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

When my ten-year old son came home from his school book fair with Becoming Muhammed Ali, by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, he had no idea that he was about to become immersed in Alexander’s poignant poetry and Patterson’s powerful prose. Never having read a novel in verse before, and with no intention to start anytime soon, he was surprised and hesitant to learn about this new genre. (As a literacy coach, nothing could have delighted me more!)

We examined the differences between the chapters written in prose and the chapters written in poetic verse. As I read aloud to him, I modeled how to use pauses and punctuation for emphasis and how to stop and consider the impact of Alexander’s literary choices.

Kids may or may not have heard of Muhammad Ali, but regardless of their background knowledge, they will be inspired by his story. Kwame Alexander delights the senses as he brings his readers into the antecedents of the  civil rights movement in rural Louisville, Kentucky. We see first hand how Cassuis Clay, with the undying support of his friends and family,  rose above tremendous opportunity gaps and segregation, to become the great Muhammed Ali. 

As Becoming Muhammed Ali alternates between narrative voices through the poetic lense of Cassius Clay and the straightforward prose of his best friend Lucky, it asks the reader to empathize with someone determined to beat all of the odds, as well as those who cheered him on from the sidelines. Kids and adults alike will be moved by the melodious lines that float like butterflies. They will be left to think about Clay’s experience as each chapter, each poem ends with incisive sharpness that stings like a bee.

From The Crossover to Rebound, Alexander’s ability to marry the spirit and determination of sports with melodic poetry has always been impressive. Alexander has been effectively expanding poetry fandom to new and unexpected audiences for years, and Becoming Muhammed Ali might just be the heavyweight champion of them all! It should be a staple of every intermediate and middle grade classroom. Jacob, a fifth grader, shared his favorite part because “it shows that Clay’s ambition to win wasn’t just for himself, but for his friends and family too.”

“Tony Madigan didn’t stand a chance

‘cause I was fighting

for my name

for my life

for Papa Cash

and Momma Bird

for my granddaddy

and his granddaddy

for Miz Alberta

for Riney and Teenie

for Big Head Paul

for Rudy

even for Corky Butler

for Louisville

for America

for my chance

for my children 

and their children

for a chance

at something better

at something way


Check out his response to reading Becoming Muhammed Ai!

1 thought on “Becoming Muhammed Ali”

  1. This looks great. Thanks for letting me know about it. Funny thing is I went to high school with Muhammad Ali’s son and I didn’t even know it until graduation when Muhammad Ali walked right by me.

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