For my first daily pick, I'm pulling out the big guns: Kadir Nelson's new picture book, Nelson Mandela.
It's hard to imagine how any reader could not just fall in love with Kadir Nelson's work after reading any of his books, but this one in particular seems to prove the benchmark of his talents. Naturally his breathtaking paintings are on full display here -- Sprout's favorite is the cover image, which honestly I could stare at myself for hours as well. But his narrative skills also come into the forefront again, as we read of the background and history of Mandela, from his early days as a barefoot boy playing at fighting, to his years imprisoned for the cause he could not abandon. Each image and its accompanying prose shows a facet of Mandela's life that will build in readers the admiration Kadir Nelson so clearly holds, for a man whose tireless fight at last culminated in a free South Africa.
Explaining to Sprout just what Mandela was fighting for was a little tricky; while he knows that people come in all different colors (and shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, etc.), it was hard for him to understand that some people are benefited by the hue of their skin while others suffer for it. Honestly I didn't force the issue too much, but neither do we sugarcoat these things with Sprout. It will be a feature of his life in this country, where he is bound to bear the weighty history of African Americans and their struggle for equality. So for him, the two spreads that most hit home were the first image of a "whites only" beach, followed by one later in the book where families of all colors enjoy the sand and surf. He lingered on the integrated image, and I can only guess at the message Sprout internalized from that.
My hope is that parents and teachers (and librarians too) will share Nelson Mandela with young readers not just as history lesson or a snippet about a great man. Though Mandela is without question the latter, I believe that the message of his life's work is larger than that - it's one that we need to carry forward into all our interactions of everyday life. Because open or hidden, racism is about fear, and only light will drive out that kind of darkness.
Slip this title into your book basket for bedtime, or for your kiddos to browse in the car. Let your middle schoolers read it, and share it aloud with your preschoolers as well. And read it yourself, for history and memory and celebration of one man, one extraordinary ordinary man, who saw a wrong in his society and never gave up the dream to change it.
Ages 4-8 (and up)
Sample: "Rolihlala played barefooted on the grassy hills of Qunu. He fought boys with sticks and shot birds with slingshots. The smartest Madiba child of thirteen, he was the only one chosen for school. His new teacher would not say his Xhosa name. She called him Nelson instead."