Magulu, as she was known in Mendeland (known today as Sierra Leone) in West Africa, was nine years old when she was taken captive by slave traders and put aboard a ship destined for Cuba. After seven weeks of traveling in complete darkness within the ship’s dank and unventilated hold, Magulu arrived in Cuba only to be sold and to be put aboard another ship, the Amistad, in yet another hold with about fifty other Mende, who were mostly men and three other children. Little did she know that Cinque, the well-known leader of the Amistad Mende, was devising plans for their freedom. Of course, the rest is history to readers familiar with the story, yet it does not include details about what became of the children, particularly Magulu.
Although the Amistad was fortunate to land in Connecticut, where slavery was illegal, the Mende men were, nonetheless, tried for mutiny and murder. Magulu (who was renamed Margru) and the three other children were considered witnesses. While the trial, which the Mende eventually won, dragged on for many months, the children in the meantime were given the wonderful opportunity to go to school. Margru in particular, who had quite a teachable spirit and the mark of a true missionary, was brought to the attention of Lewis Tappan -- a New York abolitionist who worked to achieve the freedom of slaves and who came to the defense of the Mende.
Before returning to West Africa, Margru was christened with a new name of her choosing: Sarah Kinson. Some white missionaries accompanied her and the other Mende on their trip home in hopes of setting up a mission; however, because of the fragile state of one of the white missionary women, Tappen recommended that Margru accompany her back to America. He also encouraged Margru to further her education by attending Oberlin College in Ohio, which she did, thus making her one of the first female international students in America.
Edinger’s use of first-person narrative laced with free-verse poetry not only brings Margru to life, but also personally connects young readers with a child of their age group who journals how it felt to be pulled away from her home and country to travel into unknown territory. The final touch of Byrd’s colorful yet meticulous child-like illustrations brings Margru’s story to completion. AFRICA IS MY HOME chronicles the life of one child’s near brush with slavery that opens the door to education -- truly a breath of fresh air during a detestable period of our country’s history. Included in this historical fiction are reproductions of primary resources and a personal note from the author. I consider it both an honor and privilege to read and review a story that is close to my heart and a powerful piece of the history of my community - Oberlin, Ohio.
Originally posted on Kidsreads.com.
Anita Lock, Book Reviewer