In this picture book, the illustrations are brilliant cut-outs, giving an almost three-dimensional appearance to the artwork. The vibrancy of the bold hues also illuminates this tale of a legendary Mali king.
Lots of stories of heroes are about people who grew up in adverse circumstances (think King Arthur and Harry Potter, e.g.). But Sundiata grew up with adversity. Born to an ugly, hunchbacked mother, he was incapable of speech or mobility for his first seven years and subsequently despised and ridiculed by his father’s court. Prince Sundiata’s tale is a familiar three-arc story. He suffers conflict (his father’s first wife hates him and strives to have him killed), takes an arduous journey and fights an epic battle against an evil sorcerer to regain his best friend and his rightful throne.
His story is that of a resourceful prince. He learns warfare and demonstrates many of the fabled signs of a leader: courage, determination, kindness, loyalty, generosity, stamina and perseverance.
The author’s helpful notes at the back of the novel help provide even more background. Many parts of Africa didn’t have a written tradition, which confused European missionaries/invaders/slavers into thinking they didn’t have a history (ludicrous, of course). Griots, two of them featured in this story, functioned as seers, advisors, historians and raconteurs, maintaining a people’s verbal connection to their country’s history as well as knowledge of familial lineage. Thus, the author had to demonstrate a certain amount of creativity, such as in crafting what Sundiata’s flag may have looked like.
This artistic license enhances this story. Rich with color and steeped in tradition, this picture book will appeal to people who like stories of kings, queens, nations and adventure.
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