cover image Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Kadir Nelson. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-178374-6

Nelson’s (I Have a Dream) large, luminous, and almost photographic paintings make this an extremely powerful picture-book biography of South Africa’s first black president. The wordless cover alone is arresting, as an older Mandela gazes serenely at readers (the book’s title and Nelson’s author/illustrator credit appear on the back). From a silhouette of Mandela (born Rolihlahla, which means “troublemaker”) as a boy play fighting with sticks on a country hillside to a portrait of him as a bearded young man staring out from behind prison bars, Nelson’s pictures are an immediate focal point, but also help tell the story. The straightforward narrative is broken up like verse (“The state vowed to put Nelson in jail/ and he went underground./ He wore different disguises/ and lived in the shadows”), clearly explaining the concept of apartheid and the efforts of Mandela and others to fight it. Concluding author notes offer more details about Mandela’s life. It’s a solid biography in its own right, but thanks to Nelson’s characteristically stunning paintings, it soars. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)