I have enjoyed the few things I have read by Kathryn Erskine. And Mama Africa does not disappoint either. Who was Miriam Makeba? Probably few people can answer that. I know I could not before reading Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song. She was a singer who was like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and sang protest songs. She was a woman like Nelson Mandela and helped lead her people to freedom. She was a fighter. She was an activist. She was (as the title says) someone who “Spread Hope with Her Song.” And she was a whole lot more.
Illustrations are as important as text to a story. And Charly Palmer also does not disappoint. Rich, dark, deep colors mixed in with images of the time and place connect the text for the reader. The language and text are strong, but not over powering. The author does not shy away from the historical content, but does not allow it to become too hard for a younger or sensitive child to deal with. But it is really meant for older children and adults. There are an afterwards, glossary and more to help explain terms and to expand on the authors words and personal experience. The author having spent some of her formative years in South Africa makes me confident she gets the tone of the time, people and place.
Mama Africa is a nice addition to the books about people of color and women’s history. Especially since, as I mentioned, had no idea who she was before reading. It will be a perfect addition to your school displays on Black History or Women’s History. It might not lend itself easily to a bedtime story, but would be a perfect for the classroom setting.