Kadir Nelson is such a masterly artist that he almost doesn’t need words to go along with his books. In fact, with this book in particular, you can learn the story of the great South African leader Nelson Mandela without reading a thing. …which is probably helpful, because a glossary is not included at the back of the book. I’m betting I’m not the only one not knowing words from Xhosa. For example, while readers can get an idea of what “Amandia!” and “Ngawethu!” mean from the context, it would have been nice to have a guide in the back. I didn’t even know what “mealies” meant and had to look it up. [For others who share my ignorance, “mealies” is the name for corn on the cob in South Africa. It comes from the Afrikaans word “mielie” which in turn comes from early Dutch settlers who called corn “milies”.]
Still, most of the prose is forthright and simple, and reflects the beauty of the culture the author is documenting:
Nelson was nine when his father
joined the ancestors in the sky.
To continue his schooling,
Nelson was sent miles away
to live with a powerful chief.
‘Brace yourself, my boy.’
His mother held her tears
And said good-bye.”
The pictures are absolutely stunning. Nelson uses rich, powerful oil paintings that show Mandela’s power and charisma in vivid and striking action pictures. You can see Mandela’s dedication as he strives to learn what he needs to in order to help his people; feel the passion of his supporters; and taste their hunger for freedom.
Evaluation: Mandela’s story is inspirational, and the pictures will knock you out!
Published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2013