Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson

by Charles R Smith (Author) Shane W Evans (Illustrator)

Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

This nonfiction picture book from author Charles R. Smith Jr and illustrated by Shane W. Evans tells the story of the world's first black heavyweight champion, the charismatic Jack Black Jack Johnson.

Born as Arthur John Johnson in the southern state of Texas, Jack Johnson was one of the most renowned boxers of the twentieth century. Through hard work and persistence, he climbed the ranks, taking a swing and a jab and eventually busting the color barrier. As the first black man to win the Heavyweight Championship, there was more than a title on the line. Published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this history-making bout (July 4, 1910). This is an extraordinary marriage of poetry, fabulous collage artwork, and a splendid achievement in its own right.

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Starred Review
The elegant simplicity and rat-a-tat rhythms land some stunners . . . enhanced by Evans' lithe and swaggering artwork, which lends a tremendous visual charisma, grace, and grandeur.


Through poetry, quotations and some prose, the life of one of boxing's most important stars is celebrated, from his youth as the victim of bullies to the 1908 championship bout against a white fighter that made him a legend.

School Library Journal

Starred Review
This book is sure to be championed by reluctant readers with energy and restlessness just like Johnson's, but it is a strong selection for library and classroom read-alouds as well.

Publisher's Weekly

A rousing story, one that celebrates Johnson's dignity, pride, and determination.


The poetry is interspersed with quotes of the time, and illustrator Evans uses oil paint and ink to depict the somber, determined fighter, with collage elements of newspaper articles, maps, and crowds in the backgrounds to set the story firmly in time and place.

Review quotes

"Charles Smith's poetry surges along, with a forceful rhythm that joins ballad and rap, as he follows a mighty, fightin' man, challenging the color line as well as individual opponents around the world. Shane Evans' illustrations make Johnson's body a monument to intelligence and power." —Chicago Tribune

Charles R Smith
Charles R. Smith Jr. is the author of Hoop Queens and its companions, Hoop Kings and Hoop Kings 2: New Royalty, as well as Pick-Up Game, Chameleon, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammed Ali. He is also the recipient of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem "My People." Charles R. Smith Jr. lives in New York.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Square Fish
Publication date
December 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF007100 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Sports & Recreation
JNF054000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Sports & Recreation | General
Library of Congress categories

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