Kadir Nelson, Author and Illustrator
Katherine Tegen Books, Biography, Jan. 2, 2013
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes: Courage, Determination, Equality, Civil Rights, Racism, Apartheid
Opening: Rolihlahla played barefooted on the grassy hills of Qunu. He fought boys with sticks and shot birds with slingshots. The smartest Madiba child of thirteen, he was the only one chosen for school. His new teacher would not say his Xhosa name. She called him Nelson instead.”
Synopsis: Nelson was nine years old when his father passed. His mother sent him to live with a powerful tribal chief, where he could continue his studies. He learned stories from the elders about old Africa, where people lived peacefully, the land was rich and fertile and people raised crops. The European settlers arrived and everything changed. Nelson attended school in Johannesburg where he became a lawyer who defended the poor. The government began to divide the people into three groups — African, Indian and European. The divisions were deep with Europeans in power, and apartheid was born. Nelson wanted to win back South Africa for everyone and organized rallies to speak out and fight apartheid. He became a leader among his people, but an enemy to the South African government. He was arrested and put in prison for over 27 years. South Africa erupted into violence and the world put pressure on the government. When Nelson was released from prison in 1990, he said “We must forget our terrible past and build a better future for South Africa. Let us continue to fight for justice and walk the last mile to freedom.” All South Africans had won their right to vote. And, they elected Nelson Mandela their president.
What I like about this book: The first thing you notice is that there is no title on the book. Kadir Nelson’s larger than life oil painting shows power, integrity, determination and strength. It is mesmerizing. The illustrations throughout the book are exquisite and capture the emotion of this very important time in South Africa’s history. Because Nelson Mandela was a man of few words, the author tells the story very simply and powerfully in verse. Kadir Nelson says: “My work is all about healing and giving people a sense of hope and nobility. I want to show the strength and integrity of the human being and the human spirit.” And, that he does. You can visit Kadir at his website.
Resources: There are pages of historical information at the end of the book, with suggested readings. For teaching resources and activities go to Mandela at 90.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.