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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

Cover Collection 13: The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, design

Welcome to Cover Collection, my (mostly) weekly series about book covers that I love, and why I love them. Since I missed last week because my planned blog posts got derailed by my NCTE news (YAAAAY NCTE!), I'm going to post TWO cover posts this week! And since April is National Poetry Month, I'm focusing on books written in either free verse, or straight-up rhyme.

Today, we're looking at the cover of THE UNDEFEATED, written by Kwame Alexander, and designed by Cara Llewellyn with art by illustrator Kadir Nelson. Everything about this book is amazing, but we're here to focus on the cover:

This cover is everything.

I'm not going to say much, because this is such a powerful cover and it's such a powerful book that I honestly feel like the cover speaks for itself. But I want to say a few things:

First, Kadir Nelson was the perfect person to illustrate this book. He depicts these figures from history as bold, strong, and on the cover, looking straight at us. They're telling us with their unblinking, unflinching gaze: Look at me. I have a place here, I am important, and I am not going anywhere. They defy us to deny them their rightful place in history as strong, intelligent, brilliant people. These faces are the faces of people who have already decided that they will not be defeated. They exude power.

And that power is also carried by the text: the font is big and bold and all-caps, in a dark brown shade that stands out against the white background and is highlighted by a shadow/outlining technique in burnt umber and gray, with flecks of burnt umber and gray that further highlight the letters. I might be reading into it, but the styling of the title calls to mind part-rusted railway rails. And while I know that the Underground Railroad was not actually a literal railroad, the styling of this title makes me think of this particular example of the endurance of African Americans. The Underground Railroad isn't talked about in this book, but it was one more way that Black people refused to be defeated: they would not die in shackles if they could help it. They would escape, they would survive, and they would be Undefeated.

There's a monarch butterfly, flying alone, a symbol of hope. I have to be honest and own up to not knowing of any particular significance monarch butterflies hold for African Americans, but I also acknowledge that there might be another layer here that I don't know about. (And if anyone knows of one and cares to share, please do so in the comments, so that we can all learn.)

I love this book. It is powerful, honest, unflinching, and raw. It is a celebration of endurance, of brilliance, of accomplishment. It mourns those who were lost to the violence of slavery, of prejudice, and of racism, while recognizing the astonishing accomplishments of those who survived to rise to greatness. It is essential reading for EVERY American. (And for every Canadian, too.)

Tell me: What do YOU love about this cover? Let's continue the conversation in the comments!

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