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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nelson Mandela, words and paintings by Kadir Nelson. Harper, 2013. $19..99 ages 8 and up

"Together they stood and fought apartheid. The state vowed to put Nelson in jail and he went underground. He wore different disguises and lived in the shadows. Empty flats, farmhouses, and bedrooms of friends became Nelson's home while he organized more rallies and protests. The police put out a warrant for his arrest but they could not find him.

Nelson Mandela, at almost 95, remains a hero to the people of South Africa and to the rest of the world. His health and well-being are a topic of conversation and concern for all those who hold him in their hearts for the work he has done and the pain he has endured.

It is obvious that Kadir Nelson has the utmost respect and admiration, as well. He has created this exemplary picture book biography with the same care and consideration for his subject as he did last year for I Have a Dream, winner of the ALA Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. You need only look at the remarkable cover to know the extent of that admiration. It is almost unbelievable that the man can seem so ageless and energetic. He appears to be looking right at his audience, filled with warmth and respect.

The book is such an homage to Mr. Mandela, telling his story simply and without embellishment. Kadir Nelson lets his elegant artwork do much of the telling, using only the exact number of words needed to let his readers come to know this very special man:

Nelson grew into a young man
and attended fine schools
in the golden city of Johannesburg,
where Africans were poor
and powerless.
Nelson became a lawyer
and defended those
who could not defend themselves.

The pairing of text and art is powerful and inspirational. Nelson grew up with village elders who taught him to take great pride in his land and its history. When apartheid reared its ugly head, he knew that he must do something. He led protests, organized rallies and worked tirelessly for racial equality. His dream came to a sudden end:

"With a vision for peace and harmony,
Nelson felt renewed and ready
to fight for his freedom.
But on a drive to town
he was captured,
arrested and taken to jail.
The people cried
"Free Mandela,"
"Free Mandela."
Wet paint
and posters
covered South African walls."

His imprisonment lasted for more than twenty-seven years and when he was released, he was an old man. But, still he celebrated and urged those who listened to forget the past and build a better future.
The oil paintings are luminous and powerful. Perspectives change, allowing young readers to see Nelson Mandela grow from determined child to brilliant leader, from young man to elder statesman, all the while showing concern for his people and their beautiful country. Whether seen through a wide-angle lens or in extreme close-up, every piece of art pays tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela. It is a very special book! 

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