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Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali Hardcover – October 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

When a stranger in a sky blue robe appears in the 14th century Malian village of Kaba Kangaba, young Kankan Musa is spellbound. He joins the other villagers in an evening of stories and celebration... only to have the spell broken by the arrival of slave raiders who seize Kankan and carry him off to the desert. Here begins our hero's story: is he destined to be a slave for life? Or will this be the launch of a journey to self-discovery and maturity?

Khephra Burns's exquisitely told account of one of the greatest kings of Mali is based solidly in fact, although the details of his boyhood are imagined. Partnered with the rich, breathtaking illustrations by two-time Caldecott Medalists, Leo and Diane Dillon (Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears and Ashanti to Zulu), this beautifully formatted picture book will capture the imagination and fascination of children everywhere. (Ages 8 and older) --Emilie Coulter

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Hardcover: 56 pages
  • Publisher: Gulliver Books; First Edition edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0152003754
  • ISBN-13: 978-0152003753
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 11.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There is a great deal of historical evidence in support of the mighty empire of Mali and the trek of the great king Mansa Musa across the Sahara Desert to Mecca. Some European historical accounts have him listed as the king of all of Africa. There is solid historical evidence that he lived in the early 1300's and further evidence that a mighty fleet of ships departed from the kingdom and made landfall in the Western Hemisphere during his reign. This would mean that their arrival predated the voyage of Christopher Columbus by almost two centuries.

This story is an account of the life of Mansa Musa before he became king, and while the background is historically accurate, most of the account of his life before he became king is fictional. Some of it is based on cultural myths that are still part of the Mali culture, but it is clear that there were once mighty empires in Africa. I found this book very interesting because it tells of an aspect of African history that we in the west rarely if ever hear about. The empires of Egypt and Nubia are part of the historical education of every western child, but the mighty nations that once existed in other parts of Africa are largely ignored. Most of the Africans captured and sold into slavery were from the northwest section of Africa and it is a western cultural myth that they were savages. From the historical events on which this book is based, a strong and civilized nation existed in that area several centuries before the slave trade began.

The authors do a good job in writing about the early life of Mansa Musa. It is an appropriate blend of a story for children with just enough adult features to make it appeal to all ages. Once I completed the book, my interest was so aroused that I did an online search for books on Mansa Musa and the empire of Mali.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a strictly historical book, go elsewhere. The main story is entirely fictional. However, it is beautifully told and gorgeously illustrated, and it is well researched historical fiction. No, we know nothing of the childhood of the famous Mansa Musa--however, the portrayal of the cultures and ways of life of the people is vivid and accurate, and this legend-like tale will surely gain a deserving place in the canon of children's literature.

For educational use, this is of fairly limited *factual* use because of the dearth of written accounts about Mansa Musa and his reign and, as a result, the fictional nature of the main narrative. However, the epilogue is factual (if not completely impervious to debate), and the entire book would be great as a fictional supplement to the study of the Middle Ages, especially as it takes the point of view of a non-Western culture and focuses upon an important historical figure who is often glossed over (because of lack of information and his lack of impact upon the West) in typical courses of study.

This book would be excellent for people of any background who enjoy history, good story-telling, and breathtaking illustrations.

For other great, beautifully illustrated, African-oriented picture books, try these:

Why do Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears? - an animal myth

The Marriage of the Rain-Goddess - based on a South African myth, it contains many elements common to African folklore and fairytales (such as the substitute bride)

African Princess - nonfiction about 6 royal women of Africa, from ancient Egypt to the 20th (and 21st) century. Painted illustrations are limited to one portrait per woman, but the book is fascinating and unusual, and photographs are skillfully chosen to complement the text.

African Princes - Complement to African Princesses.
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By reader mom on April 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I checked this book out from the library and loved it so much that I'm going to purchase a copy to own. Other reviewers have covered the fiction/fact aspect of the book, so I'll limit my comments to the beauty of the story and the illustrations. Adult readers familiar with Joseph Campbell will recognize elements of the hero-tale framework in the narrative. The story itself is compelling and captivating to children and adults alike. My 5 1/2 year old son eagerly chose it as his bed-time story every night until we finished it. (It's a long read-aloud for one sitting -- too long for a 5 year old at bedtime.) My 7 year old daughter and I were equally enthralled.

The illustrations are incredibly rich and detailed, with African-influenced stylization. They are fully up to the task of supporting the beautiful narrative. The paintings, along with some illustrative detail inserted into the text areas of the story give the book a regal, special feel, almost as if it should be handled reverently.

This book would be a wonderful addition to anyone's book collection and would make a beautiful gift. I also recommend the book "Sundiata: Lion King of Mali" by David Wisniewski as a prequel. Sundiata is portrayed as Mansa Musa's grandfather in the Burns book -- a detail which may or may not be factual. Regardless, it's another well told and nicely illustrated Mali legend.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My 1st grade son came across this book in the school library as he was preparing for a year end book review. It ended up that we both enjoyed reading it, so I am adding it to our collection at home.

The illustrations are well done and the writing is superb, not to mention the historical links and paths that you can take to learn more about African and Middle Eastern cultures. Highly recommended reading.
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