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Review of Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song

Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song
by Kathryn Erskine; illus. by Charly Palmer
Primary, Intermediate    Farrar    48 pp.
10/17    978-0-374-30301-3    $18.99

The effects of colonialism on the continent of Africa are pernicious and vile; in every country the consequences continue to be real and raw, among them those from apartheid, the institutional racism that was law in South Africa between 1948 and 1991. For Americans, the most familiar resistance hero is Nelson Mandela, but now Erskine (Mockingbird, rev. 3/10), in her debut picture book, uses a driving present-tense narrative to bring to the fore another hero, singer Miriam Makeba. Erskine’s prose style is expressionistic, with lyrical sentences that alight on significant events, such as Makeba’s flight from her homeland in disguise, her powerful testimony at the United Nations, the horrific Soweto killings, and Mandela’s release from jail, ending with the singer’s triumphant return home after apartheid is ended. Potent quotes and song lyrics keep the intensity high, as does the clever use of words in a fierce red, often repeated to begin the subsequent page, lending the text a driving propulsion. Debut illustrator Palmer heightens the overall sense of urgency with vivid paintings pulsing with color, movement, and emotion. In her author’s note, Erskine writes of being introduced to the music of Makeba during her childhood years in apartheid South Africa. In other back matter, the connection between the fight against apartheid and the American civil rights movement is emphasized by the inclusion of both in the substantive timeline, a selected bibliography, and further reading.

From the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Monica Edinger

Monica Edinger, a fourth-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, blogs at Educating Alice and the Huffington Post. She is the author of Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick), illustrated by Robert Byrd.

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Comments

  1. “Potent quotes and song lyrics keep the intensity high, as does the clever use of words in a fierce red, often repeated to begin the subsequent page, lending the text a driving propulsion. Debut illustrator Palmer heightens the overall sense of urgency with vivid paintings pulsing with color, movement, and emotion.”

    Wow! I will enter my reservation on a copy immediately in our system. Like so many others, for me it always came down to Mandela when considering this infuriating subject, so I greet this biography of Miriam Makeba with much enthusiasm. As always I much appreciate your superlative writing in the service of discovery.

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