CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 27 . . . . April 13, 2012
Jimmy the Greatest!
Jairo Buitrago. Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Translated by Elisa Amado.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2012.
52 pp., hardcover & ebook, $18.95 (hc.), $18.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-55498-178-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-206-6 (ebook).
Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
That very day Jimmy told his grandfather that he wanted to become a boxer, and he promised his mother he’d buy her a new icebox when he did. In his heart Jimmy was already a boxer, even though there were no boxing gloves at the gym, and someone there, maybe by mistake, had taken his shoes. Don Apolinar gave Jimmy a cardboard box filled with books and newspaper clippings. There was also a note saying, “Muhammad Ali’s bike was stolen when he was little.” But who was Muhammad Ali?
Listen to me,
This is my town,
There are donkeys, three sheep
and the great huge sea.
There are no elegant houses
or fancy things.
But we’re really great.
We dance and we box
and we don’t
sit around waiting
to go someplace else.
Narrated partly in the third person and partly in Jimmy’s own poetry, this book is set in a small Latin American village by the sea, where a small gym is the only place where youngsters can pass time. When the owner of the gym encourages Jimmy to develop his boxing skills, Jimmy immediately grows in stature, rushing home to tell his mother and grandfather of his plans to be a boxer. His enthusiasm is further encouraged when the trainer gives him a box of clippings and books about Mohammed Ali. Reading as he shadow boxes, Ali becomes Jimmy’s hero. Apart from their love of boxing, they have other things in common, including their poetry writing and the fact that Ali had his bike stolen and Jimmy his shoes!! When Jimmy’s trainer moves to the city, as so many others have, Jimmy stays behind. His new skill has given him a sense of his own worth and of his place in his community. In turn, he becomes a leader and hero to others.
Jimmy the Greatest! is a compelling story containing many layers of significance and understated wisdom. On one level, the story may be read simply as Jimmy’s admiration of a larger-than-life figure and his subsequent striving to follow a dream. However, more powerfully, readers see the difference it makes in a young person’s life when somebody shows faith in you, and readers see Jimmy grow in confidence until he accepts himself for who he is and no longer a person “thinking about what he didn’t have anymore.”
Jimmy is his own man and shows us that greatness is within us all no matter how modest our perceived place in the world. With his passion for respect and dignity, he gains the affection of his community and the reader. He is also a real and loveable character who, seemingly fatherless, makes lunch for his grandfather, promises his mother a new ice-box when he achieves his dream, and realizes that its just fine to read and wear the glasses that he has never worn before.
As the story grows on the reader, so does the artwork with its rich tones of yellows, tans and browns. The myriad figures in action, the quaint angular heads and expressions of some of the cartoon-like characters and the small background details, such as jumping fish, or a fisherman throwing his net, pique the curiosity of the reader. The book’s illustrations also enrich our awareness of another part of the world, showing us a life style and scenes quite unfamiliar to Canadians.
Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng are both from Colombia and have collaborated on previous picture books that have won national and international acclaim. Elisa Amado, who translated this story, lives in Toronto and is the author, editor and translator of numerous popular children’s books.
Jimmy the Greatest! is great read for all children aged between four and seven is a “must-have” for all libraries and will particularly resonate with boys and sports enthusiasts.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian from Toronto, ON.
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