Friday, July 31, 2009
Life in the gym
At Gleason's Gym by Ted Lewin is a picture book about the many different people, old and young, male and female, all different colors and ethnicities, who train at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn. It was written for elementary aged children but after reading it I thought it would make an excellent choice for teens who are reluctant readers - especially boys who may be learning English as a second language or have struggled with illiteracy. It might be a picture book but Lewin has written At Gleason's Gym with a very sophisticated and mature style. And the artwork, ranging from big brawny oils to simpler pencil drawings is stunning. There is nothing insulting about being seen with this book - if anything others will be envious that you found something so excellent to read.
The story is based around Sugar Boy Younan who has been visiting Gleason's with his father since he was two and now, at the age of nine, is training for the Silver Gloves Nationals, Bantamweight division. As Lewin leads readers around the gym, following Sugar Boy and the people he encounters, he writes about the tip tap of jump roping, the buzz of the ring bell, the bam bam bam of the heavy bag slamming. There are "kickboxers from Thailand, girl boxers, big, burly wrestlers..." The gym is alive with activity and everybody - everybody - is welcome.
Hands get wrapped, shadow boxers line the wall, eyes turn towards the ring, everyone watches the sparring, everyone cheers. There are so many good things about how Lewin tells this story, the choice of language, the unconscious rhythm of the words, the overwhelming inclusiveness of the characters, that it's hard for me to point out one simple thing. I thought it was strong and beautiful, that it conveyed all the power of boxing and how that power can belong to anyone. Mostly though, it shows that Gleason's Gym is a place where anyone's dreams can be pursued. I can't think of a better ideal for someone to learn or a better book for a reader to learn on.