Once there was a little girl--an orphaned African princess--who narrowly escaped death by human sacrifice in a West African village in 1850. A British sea captain named Frederick E. Forbes saved her life by talking King Gezo of Dahomey into giving the girl to Queen Victoria of England as a gift: "She would be a present from the King of the blacks to the Queen of the Whites." As impossible as this tale sounds, it is a true one. Award-winning author Walter Dean Myers--piecing together her story from letters he found in a rare book and ephemera shop in London--paints a hauntingly detached portrait of the small African princess whom the heroic captain named Sarah Forbes Bonetta.
We follow her charmed but unlucky life as the Queen's protégée through a succession of British middle-class households, beginning with the Forbes home. Because of her celebrated association and frequent visits with the Queen, Sarah grows up in an unusual position of privilege, education, and celebrity. On the flip side, she is keenly aware that her decisions are not her own, and as a rescued orphan under the Queen's protection, her life's path is dictated by those acting in what they perceive to be her best interests. It is hard not to feel that it was cruel of her protectors to wrench her (more than once in her life) from the adopted family she adores, and eventually to encourage her to marry a West African businessman whom she clearly stated she could never love, and who would take her away from her adopted country. As the epilogue states, "She was both unfortunate in her losses, and fortunate that those losses were not greater.... She seemed to find a measure of comfort wherever she was, but was destined to be apart from the world in which she lived." This story, rich with historic prints, photographs, newspaper clippings, excerpts from Queen Victoria's diary, and Sarah's letters, is both fascinating and tragic. We have Myers to thank for rescuing this fine woman again--this time from the forgotten shelf of a London bookstore. (Ages 11 and older)
Gr. 5^-8. Myers pieces together bits of history and letters to form a unique and dramatic mosaic: the life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a seven-year-old African (Egbado) princess saved by an English naval officer from a rival tribe's ritual sacrifice in 1850. Sarah is brought to England, where Queen Victoria puts the girl under her protection until Sarah's marriage. The queen also acted as godmother to Sarah's first child and met and corresponded with Sarah throughout her life. Through Sarah's story, Myers offers insights into Victorian attitudes and society and examines the flow of people and ideas between England and Africa during the period. The inclusion of passages from Sarah's correspondence helps bring her to life, and Sarah's photo on the jacket brings readers face-to-face with this remarkable young woman. An intriguing biography as well as an unusual source for those interested in British or African history. To be illustrated with reproductions of photographs and documents. Carolyn Phelan