My husband is a dog trapped in a human body. Besides his overly friendly disposition and tendency to eat anything put in front of him indiscriminately, he loves anything that involves chasing a little ball. He plays tennis six days a week, and watches matches whenever they are on television. So I get rather more exposed to conversation about the game than I would like, since it basically bores me to death. Nevertheless, I ripped through this interesting story by Crystal Hubbard about the inspirational Arthur Ashe.
Ashe was the first African American man to win a Grand Slam tournament and at one time was the top-ranked tennis player in the world.
Ashe was not only a famous tennis player, but, as Hubbard points out, “he was just as great a champion off the court.” He believed, as he said in an interview on Face the Nation, “prominent black athletes have a responsibility to champion the causes of their race.” He not only became active in trying to recruit young black players to the game, but also in speaking out against Apartheid in South Africa.
The book tells how Ashe got started in tennis, and about the help he received in learning to play and learning to win. It ends with the story of Ashe’s famous and hard-fought Wimbledon victory over Jimmy Conners in 1975, but an afterword continues Ashe’s story. In 1979, Ashe had a heart attack at the age of thirty-six. During a second surgery, he had received blood transfusions, and contracted the HIV virus. As Hubbard reports:
“He knew that he wouldn’t overcome HIV/AIDS, but he refused to let his illness break his spirit or stop him from pursuing the causes he promoted. He said, ‘If I were to say, ‘God, why me?’ about the bad things, then I should have said, ‘God, why me?’ about the good things that happened in my life.”
Ashe became an active advocate of AIDS education and research, but sadly, died of AIDs-related pneumonia in 1993 at the age of forty-nine.
“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” – Arthur Ashe
The illustrator, Kevin Belford, is a great disappointment. At times he seems more interested in trying to channel LeRoy Neiman, the famous lithographer known for sports pictures, than in bringing the characters to life. The results struck me as a bit too artificial and impersonal – not something that might capture the imaginations of children.
Evaluation: Even if you don’t like tennis, you can’t help but be inspired by the life of Arthur Ashe. It should be noted, however, that the majority of the book focuses on Ashe’s game, not on his life outside the court.
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2010
Note: Lee & Low Books describes this book as appropriate for Interest Level Grades 2 – 6 and Reading Level Grades 4 and up.