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Nelson Mandela

A Picture Book Biography by Kadir Nelson

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating



Nelson Mandela, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson



In words and paintings, Kadir Nelson illuminates and celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela in his picture book biography Nelson Mandela. The book is an excellent introduction to the life and work of the South African anti-apartheid leader and South Africa's first black president. From the stunning portrait on the cover to the interior illustrations, Kadir Nelson's artwork shows both Mandela's humanity and his strength.  I recommend this book for family and classroom discussion, as a read aloud for younger children and for independent readers 9 to 14.

The Life and Impact of Nelson Mandela

Every double-page spread is filled with a dramatic painting, with the words embedded in the illustration.  Writing in free verse, Kadir Nelson begins the story of Nelson Mandela's life with the changes that come with the death of his father when Nelson is nine years old. His mother sends him away from home to live with a powerful chief.

There Nelson hears stories of old Africa, before it "belonged to Europe." In Johannesberg, where Africans live in poverty and have no voice in the government, Nelson Mandela grows up to become a lawyer who defends those who need him.

When the government institutes apartheid, it designates people as "African," "Indian," and "European," giving the Europeans many rights not shared by others, including special Europeans-only beaches, parks and theaters. Nelson Mandela fights apartheid, organizing rallies and stressing that South Africa belongs to all Africans.

Although Nelson is jailed for 100 days, he continues to fight apartheid and is joined by his wife, Winnie.  To avoid being jailed again, he goes into hiding and disguises his appearance.  During this time, he is able to visit several free African nations and upon his return, is even more dedicated to change in South Africa.

However, Nelson Mandela is caught and jailed – not for days, not for weeks, not for months, but for years.  He does not forget his goal and the people do not forget him. Protests continue and years pass before apartheid ends and he is released. In 1990, after 27 ½ years in prison, Mandela returns home and is given a hero's welcome home.  Nelson Mandela goes on to be elected the first black president of South Africa.

In his afterword, Kadir Nelson gives more biographical information about Nelson Mandela and quotes his words to South Africans after his election. "We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all…"

Author and Illustrator Kadir Nelson

Artist Kadir Nelson's paintings can be found in museums and galleries, as well as in children's picture books. His work emphasizes African-American culture and history. Nelson is a graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he majored in illustration.

Kadir Nelson has won numerous awards as the author and/or illustrator of children's picture books.  His award-winning books include Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, as well as books he has both written and illustrated. Nelson received the 2009 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award Medal for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, which is on also my personal Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year list. He received the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, The book was also recognized as the only 2012 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book. To learn more, read my book review of Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson. Another of his recent picture books is I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for which he illustrated portions of Dr. King's famous speech.

My Recommendation

Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to many people, and Kadir Nelson does justice to his life and its impact in Nelson Mandela.  Obviously, in a picture book, a great deal must be left out, but the book provides an excellent introduction to Mandela, and the two-page biography and bibliography at the end of the book will be particularly helpful to young readers eager to learn more. I recommend the book for readers 9 to 14 and as a read aloud for children 7 and older. (Katherine Tegen Books, An Imprint of HarperCollins, 2013. ISBN: 9780061783760) Compare Prices.

More Nelson Mandela Resources From About.com

Kadir Nelson's Nelson Mandela was published early in 2013. On December 5, 2013, the world mourned the death of the Nobel Peace Prize winner at the age of 95. For additional information about Nelson Mandela, see these resources from Alistair Boddy-Evans, the About.com African History Expert: Biography: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Quotes: Nelson Mandela, More Quotes: Nelson Mandela and The World Remembers Nelson Mandela.

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