Your Legacy by Schele Williams

Cover image for Your Legacy.

Your Legacy: A Bold Reclamation of Our Enslaved History by Schele Williams, illustrated by Tonya Engel (9781419748752)

This picture book honors the history of African Americans in America. Looking at Africa first, as a place of pride, filled with a long history of heritage and kingdoms. When Africans were loaded onto ships and taken into slavery, they brought so many of the qualities that they had in Africa. Their freedom was taken into a brutal system, but their intelligence allowed them to bridge their different languages with music. They loved one another as family, secretly learned to read, and smuggled messages for one another. Some managed to escape with determination and bravery. Black Americans were inventors of engines, farm equipment, and furniture, though they rarely got credit for their ideas. They created jazz, ice cream, peanut butter, and the blood plasma bank. The book ties all of these qualities to modern figures who exemplify them, showing how the heritage carries through ancestors to today.

Filled with a sense of pride from the very first pages, this picture book offers a way to speak to children about slavery without creating shame. There is a strong sense of resilience throughout the book, of people who not only endured but survived and continued to invent and create. The book allows space for slavery as part of African American history, but frames it in terms of the qualities of character it took to survive. This is history that is not shared in schools that then turns to the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our history.

Engel’s illustrations are full of connection and joy. She uses deep and bright colors, creating scenes where African Americans stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, work side by side, and sing together.

A necessary purchase for public and school libraries looking for a way to teach African American history in a better way. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (9781419739828)

Published August 18, 2020, after being delayed in April. 

Tarisai was raised in luxury but kept at a distance from everyone lest she steal their stories through her touch. Only her mother, The Lady, touches her, but she is always away and visits rarely. Tarisai is sent to the capitol of the Empire to compete to become a member of the heir’s Council. Only eleven children are selected, one from each part of the realm. But Tarisai is part ehru and has been ordered to kill the heir when she gets close to him and has his trust. The magic of the wish binds Tarisai to comply, but her destiny is not that simple.

The depth of this teen novel is remarkable, particularly for a debut novel. It is a book that submerges the reader into a world they have never seen or experienced before. The world building is incredibly detailed, each element supporting the entirety, woven together into a complex but whole pattern. Based on the author’s Nigerian roots, the book is filled with African notes, settings and tributes.

The characters are so well drawn, particularly Tarisai, who is just as complex as the world she inhabits. As she learns more about herself, she transforms in front of the reader yet never leaves her lonely little girl beginnings behind. The result is an organic growth that makes sense and will leave the reader entirely satisfied.

One of the best fantasy novels this year, give this one to fans of Tomi Adeyemi. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Amulet Books.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (9780062891495)

Karina knows she isn’t the daughter her mother wanted. After Karina’s older sister and father were killed in a fire that she can barely remember, Karina had to take her sister’s place as heir. But her mother, The Kestrel, never taught her the same way that her older sister was taught, and Karina found great pleasure in defying any expectations. Now the country is starting a new era, triggered by the appearance of a comet in the skies, where the various factions will fight to see whose god or goddess rules in the next 50 years. Karina’s mother shows her for the first time, the magic that keeps their country safe, but then is killed before explaining it fully to her. Now Karina must find a way forward, led by a book’s instructions on resurrecting the dead. Meanwhile, Malik is a refugee caught outside the city’s walls. When his little sister is trapped by a dark spirit, Malik must promise to kill Karina in order to gain his sister’s release. He soon discovers that what he had been told was mental issues was actually his magic, a magic that he uses to get closer to be Karina by becoming a Champion, seemingly selected by his god. As the lives of the two run parallel to one another, they find themselves negotiating politics, magic, greed, and betrayal.

Brown has crafted an entire world of matriarchal queens that spirals with hidden and forgotten magic. Filled with African elements, the story weaves around figures such as Hyena, wraiths that lurk in the corners of the world, and the savagery of power. Brown also speaks to the plight of refugees, of entire people’s being seen as lesser than and vilified while still used as servants. Her world is detailed and fascinating, including a well-crafted alignment system that plays into the contests and much more.

The two main protagonists are complicated. At times, each of them becomes quite unlikeable, making choices that are questionable. And yet, one can’t help but root for them to figure things out, come back to being the people readers know they are deep down, and to realize that they are heroines and heroes of their own lives. Readers will enjoy the romantic elements, but nicely these are not the main focus of the novel which is jam-packed with action, contests, battles and more.

Unique, detailed and fascinating, this first book in a series is a heady mix of African myth, political intrigue and fantasy. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Mandela’s Favorite Folktales

To celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday, there is a new audio book of his favorite African folktales.  Featured on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, you can hear tempting fragments of songs and the voices of popular American actors reading the tales.  The collection sounds like a great way to bring African folktales into libraries and homes.  The audiobooks raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Artists for a New South Africa.  The official website is here with more story excerpts to sample.