cover image Before the Ships: The Birth of Black Excellence

Before the Ships: The Birth of Black Excellence

Maisha Oso, illus. by Candice Bradley. Orchard, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-338-84997-4

“Long before a slave ship sailed,/ we shined like bright stars—/ brilliant and beautiful.” In an insightful picture book, Oso (Buster the Bully) offers an empowering portrait of African peoples “before the ships.” Alliterative and assonant lines expound on the lives of individuals thriving in Africa, where “we birthed creation,/ cradled civilizations,/ nurtured nations”; “we were royalty,/ reigning, ruling entire empires”; “we were doctors, farmers, leaders of tribes”; and much more. In digital illustrations both detailed and sweeping, Bradley (Snowy Mittens) portrays people with a range of skin tones, hairstyles, and dress alongside landscapes that reflect a broad sky. On one spread, warriors sit astride elephants, while text references both Hannibal and Amanirenas; on another, children rest in tall grasses while lines describe how “many modern-day sciences stem from our genius.” A narrative turn moves the text into the present day, a time “after the ships,” emphasizing how “we are/ still shining,/ still beautiful,/ still brilliant.” It’s an apt, affirming history that connects readers to ancestors while underlining how “Black lives have always mattered.” An author’s note concludes. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jemiscoe Chambers-Black, Andrea Brown Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary. (Aug.)