This beautiful work of historical fiction/folklore is both moving and visually breathtaking. The 56 page book presents as a picture book, but with an AR 6.4 and the amount of text, it reads like a chapter book. Thus, I’m going to review it as a chapter book, but keep in mind that it is hard bound, 11 x 9, horizontal and while there are frequent small story breaks, there are no chapter breaks.
There is little historical fact about Mansa Musa as a child, thus this story while rooted in fact about the time, about Mansa Musa as an adult, and about what is known regarding Mali and the Malinke and Tuareg tribes, is a work of imagined fiction. The story begins with premonitions and dreams from Kankan Musa of the Kaba Kangaba tribe. Kankan and his two brothers live with their mother, and do not know who their father was, a source of stress and teasing for the young boys. Having just turned 14, Kankan is treated as an adult, but because he has yet proved himself as a hunter, he may sit with the adults, but not yet join their conversations. Mali in the years after the great King Sundiata had passed away has begun to fade, but their wealth and hospitality still prospers in the desert.
One day a desert nomad from the Tuareg tribe dressed in flowing blue robes appears and is welcomed by the village elders. That night he regales stories about jinns, and the sea, and time spent in the desert, and fears he has for their King, when slave raiders tear through the night and kidnap Kankan. When Kankan awakens days later, enslaved, the same mysterious man, Tariq al-Aya, again appears and buys him from the raiders. Tariq vows to accompany Musa on his journey to learn who he is and the two spend seven years together learning about the desert, about the larger world, about themselves, in trial and test and challenges.
When Musa journeys back to his home, and Tariq disappears as mysteriously as he appeared, Musa must make himself known to the new Mansa of Mali and see if his wisdom and knowledge can ensure the success of Mali in the future.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I’m not from Africa and my heart was cheering Musa on as if, my own families success was rooted in his growth and understanding of the world. As a Muslim, I was proud to know of the success Mali found in Mansa Musa and the historical significance of his rule throughout time. I wish there was more Islam in the book, his Hajj is well documented and thus tidbits of Mecca and his understanding of it is sprinkled through the story. There is no talk about prayer or what Islam is, just that he is Muslim and that most of the villagers “had converted to Islam, but at the same time, they had not given up their traditional religious practices or their belief in the ancestors.” It mentions at the end that he built mosques wherever he went, but prior to this it never mentions him spending any time in a mosque or worshiping in any way.
I love that the story is told like all great stories, it makes you want to settle in and drink up the details and imagery and got lost in the pictures. The author weaves in cultural phrases and descriptions, that hopefully readers can unravel from the context as there is not a glossary. There is a map at the beginning, and author’s note at the end that reveals what is fact and what is fiction in the story.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
This book should be in every school library and used in classrooms to learn about West Africa, cultures, 14th Century, Islamic history, culture, you name it. I think this book would work wonderfully in home school environments, where the child could dictate how much to supplement, how much to cover, and the wisdom shared could really be understood. This isn’t a book that most kids would pick up and read, they would need prodding and guidance, but be better for it.