Jimmy the Greatest is a simple and sweet story about small towns, poverty, and change. Based on the text and the illustrations, one learns that Jimmy is from a coastal town that is so small that it only has a church and a gym. One might guess that the story is about a Latin American town, when one learns that the author and illustrator of this imported picture book are both from Columbia. There is also the reference to an alligator being eaten for lunch, which should signal to most American children that they are reading about another culture. Otherwise, because the location is never named, the story remains universal.
The story is about a small poor town, the houses of which are spread far apart on the sandy coast. Its gym is a two-walled wooden structure with an adjacent boxing ring. Some of its citizens ride bicycles, many of them eat fish and fruit, and only a few of them have heard of Mohammed Ali. The gym figures largely in Jimmy’s life, who one days tells his mom he wants to become a boxer and that he’ll buy her a new icebox when he does. Boys especially will enjoy reading about Jimmy’s dream to become a boxer, even if he doesn’t have gloves and someone has stolen his shoes.
The story is also about change, which is captured in the detailed illustrations The first spread reveals villagers wearing Western clothes, one boy eating ice-cream, and men using nets to hunt fish. As Jimmy grows up and more villagers read, the number of boxing spectators grows in size and a library is built. By the final spread, some villagers have moved to big cities, the town has also grown and become more crowded, and utility poles dot the landscape. There still aren’t any elegant houses or fancy things, but villagers aren’t sitting around waiting to go somewhere else—and Jimmy plans to stay. What a wonderful message to instill in young people, that one’s home can be the greatest place on earth.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
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