Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Book Review: Never Forgotten, by Patricia McKissack, artwork by Leo & Diane Dillon (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011)
I was immediately drawn to the stunning cover of this new work by Patricia C. McKissack, who has written or co-authored over 100 books about the African-American experience and has received countless awards for her work. In her newest work, she marries African folktales with historical fiction, telling in free verse the story of an 18th century West African boy raised by his blacksmith father and the Mother Elements--Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth. The boy, named Mufasa, disappears one day, like so many others--captured by the slave traders and taken by ship to a far-away land. Wind, Fire, Water and Earth try to save Mufasa, but none is powerful enough. Nonetheless, the wind finally brings Mufasa news that his son is still alive, and working as a blacksmith, although still a slave.
McKissack celebrates in this story "the son who was taken,/But never forgotten. She was inspired to write this tale by her curiosity about how African literature and music portrayed those ripped from their families by the slave trade. Clearly these individuals were mourned by their families, but she could not find any stories, dances, feasts or other stories about the "Taken," so she decided to write her own using elements of African folklore for her story. The free verse allows McKissack to create a rhythm to her language that in certain passages is reminiscent of drums beating.
This moving tale of family members loved and lost is magnificently illustrated by the two-time Caldecott Medal-winning team of Leo and Diane Dillon. The illustrations were created in acrylic and watercolor on bristol board, and the artistic style clearly shows the influence of African art. I will not be at all surprised to see this book honored with many awards, particularly for its powerful illustrations.