cover image Sundiata: Lion King of Mali

Sundiata: Lion King of Mali

David Wisniewski. Clarion Books, $17 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-61302-3

In the oral tradition of the griots (minister-like functionaries ``with the wisdom of history''), Wisniewski brings to life a story of courage from the African country of Mali. Sundiata, born to the King and his second wife, ``proved unable to speak or walk,'' and despite glowing predictions for his future he is hounded from his country. After years of exile, he is invited back to oust a tyrant and return his land to prosperity and peace. This retelling, though imbued with dignity and intelligence, proves somewhat confusing. Children may not be able to follow the convoluted series of events, while the multiplicity of characters--most with strange, hard-to-pronounce names--could well befuddle even the most assiduous reader. Wisniewski's stunning cut-paper illustrations, however, introduce to the text a striking vitality and beauty. Historically accurate images are sharp without starkness, expressive of raw power and delicate fragility by turns, and full of strong dynamism and motion. Bright rainbow colors capture the fabrics of Africa, and the text's patterned borders are suggestive of kilim rugs. An unremarkable narrative redeemed by inspired artwork. Ages 5-9. (Oct.)