African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History
Black history begins thousands of years ago with the many cultures and people of the African continent.
Through portraits of ten heroic figures, author Tracey Baptiste takes readers on a journey across Africa to meet some of the great leaders and thinkers whose vision built a continent and shaped the world.
Illustrator Hillary D. Wilson’s brilliant portraits accompany each profile, along with vivid, information-filled landscapes, maps, and graphics for readers to pore over and return to again and again.
This book helps, although we still need many more books like it. In a fashion similar to collective biographies about kings and queens of England, we are introduced to ten historical figures, ranging from rulers to writers to military leaders. Some, about whom little is known, may be new to readers (such as Menses and Meneith, Egyptian rulers, and Mansa Musa, the richest man of all time), and others (like Imhotep, Hannibal Barca, Terence, and Aesop) offer additional, thought provoking information about well known figures. Each short biography is accompanied by a beautiful illustration by Wilson, bordered in pages decorations based on extant artwork from that person's culture.
In between these chapters are helpful descriptions of some of the societal constructs, historic framework, or rarely covered facts. These chapters cover topics such as the use of metal in the ancient world, how nature helped inform African stories, and how other powers invaded the continent and enslaved its inhabitants. These chapters help readers understand some of the things that happen to the biographical figures or what their world would have looked like.
Because there are so few books on African history, this could have easily been a whole series of books covering a range of topics. I also wish that there had been a few more maps, and that the book design would have included some sidebars and photographs of the African landscape. There is a lot of children's nonfiction that includes elements like this, in order to break up the text, and this book certainly deserved a similar treatment.
Wilson's illustrations are lovely, but it would have been helpful to have a few smaller ones incorportated in the chapter, showing some of the Egyptian gods, portrayals in art of Hannibal Barca, or examples of ancient manuscripts, especially since it is so hard to find books on these topics.
I can only hope that we see more books on African history aimed at middle grade readers, and that in a few short years I might be able to list a number books that are similar to this one.