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MANSA MUSA: The Lion of Mali

Khephra Burns, Author, Leo Dillon, Illustrator, Diane Dillon, Illustrator
Khephra Burns, Author, Leo Dillon, Illustrator, Diane Dillon, Illustrator , illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon. Harcourt/Gulliver $18 (56p) ISBN 978-0-15-200375-3
Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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Evocative, finely wrought gouache paintings by the Dillons (Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears) provide excellent accompaniment to this colorful introduction to the history of Mali. Burns (Black Stars in Orbit: NASA's African American Astronauts) embarks in 14th-century West Africa, creating a slightly embellished (as per an author's note) account of the mystery and greatness of the Mali kingdom. Employing a combination of mythical elements and historical fact, the author sets in motion a chain of events during which 14-year-old Kankan is kidnapped by slave traders, wanders the desert for six years with a captor/mentor and, after an important revelation, eventually returns to his Mali homeland. Kankan has discovered that he is a descendent of the legendary king Sundiata and is destined to rule his people as Mansa Musa. Though it contains several fascinating episodes, the very lengthy, highly detailed text may be off-putting for the usual picture book audience. In addition, the plot slows and drifts off course as Kankan wanders the desert, and younger readers may have difficulty keeping the names of people and places straight. As a highlight, the illustrations bring alive historic Africa and its people, dressed in elegant, flowing garments, bright gold jewelry and carefully draped turbans. Flashes of purple, yellow, white and turquoise sparkle against a desert background. The book may also be useful as a first introduction to the Muslim faith. All ages. (Oct.)

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