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Never Forgotten (Junior Library Guild Selection) Hardcover – October 11, 2011
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A Look Inside Never Forgotten
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|A Father's Journey Begins||Musafa||Musafa Becomes an Apprentice||Recognition|
From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-In a tribute to those who were stolen from homes in Africa to become slaves in the New World, McKissack weaves a tale (Schwartz & Wade, 2011) about a loving father and the young son who is taken from him. Dinga, a seventh-generation Mende blacksmith, is a talented and respected man. After his wife dies in childbirth, Dinga defies tradition, raising his son Musafa with the help of the Mother Elements-Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind. Musafa grows strong and wise. He becomes Dinga's apprentice, creating pretty, but useless objects. One day, while gathering wood, Musafa is captured. Dinga searches in vain for his son, then appeals to the Elements for help. They take turns following Musafa, reporting to Dinga of his son's passage, his courage, and finally, of his new life as a blacksmith in South Carolina. Dinga rejoices that Musafa is alive and that his talent for creating lovely objects could earn his freedom. Lizan Mitchell performs the passages of McKissack's 2012 Coretta Scott King Honor book melodiously and with fervor. The author's note was not recorded. Leo and Diane Dillon's acrylic and watercolor illustrations resemble woodcuts, superimposing bold figures on fainter ones, creating impressions of lingering spirits, evil, and sadness. Combining history, folk tales, and legend into a moving remembrance of families torn apart, this haunting story with its rich illustrations is strengthened by this wonderful audio interpretation.-MaryAnn Karre, West Middle School, Binghamton, New York α(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Top customer reviews
When the great Mende blacksmith Dinga found himself with a baby boy after his wife died he bucked tradition and insisted on raising the boy himself. For Musafa, his son, Dinga called upon the Mother Elements of Earth, Fire, Water and Wind and had them bless the child. Musafa grew in time but spent his blacksmithing on creating small creatures from metal. Then, one day, Dinga discovers that Musafa has been kidnapped by slave traders in the area. Incensed, each of the four elements attempts to help Dinga get Musafa back, but in vain. Finally, Wind manages to travel across the sea. There she finds Musafa has found a way to make use of his talent with metal, creating gates in a forge like no one else's. And Dinga, back at home, is comforted by her tale that his son is alive and, for all intents and purposes, well.
McKissack's desire to give voice to the millions of parents and families that mourned the kidnapping of their children ends her book on a bittersweet note. After reading about Musafa's disappearance and eventual life, the book finishes with this: "Remember the wisdom of Mother Dongi: / `Kings may come and go, / But the family endures forever.' / Think on that when the silence comes." It's a dark line but a strong one. It speaks not just to the story we've read here but to any occasion where a family is split. And there's a strange comfort in its chilling "when the silence comes" which refers back to the first sentence in the passage reading "The last part of a story is the silence." The very beginning of the book, you see, mentions that "We rarely speak of the Taken" and it is this the truth that McKissack works to rectify.
As an author, Patricia McKissack has always had a knack for language. Her wordplay can be a delight to listen to (as in Precious and the Boo Hag or Flossie and the Fox) or chill you to the core (as in The Dark Thirty). Here, she does both at once. She begins the book by wrapping you up in the love the blacksmith Dinga has for his son. She works in fantastical elements with the four elements passing on their blessings like good fairies. And then the nightmare of Musafa's capture evokes similar slavery folktales like Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly. Mixing horrific history with fairytale elements shouldn't work, but under McKissack's hands it does. Finally, there is the readaloud aspect to this book. These passages ache to be spoken aloud. Even on the page there is a rhythm to them, but I look forward to hearing someone read them to me so that I can hear McKissack's cadences for myself.
I've participated in a number of debates amongst librarians trying desperately to figure out how to categorize this book. At first it was in nonfiction. That was a location swiftly discarded after, y'know, reading the book. Next it was placed in the picture book area, and that's certainly a logical place for it. But then someone noticed that each section of this title looks like a little poem. So should it be called poetry instead? The publication page calls it a "novel in verse", so would you label it straight up fiction? It's unclear.
Leo and Diane Dillon are a talented fare. Two time Caldecott Medal winners, if you've ever seen their Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale then you are familiar with their work. In this book the two seem to return to the style that captured the world's attention lo these many years ago. Way back in 1977 they won a medal for Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions. It's a cool book, but since then they've played around with a variety of different styles. Indeed, this year is seeing their work in the publication not just of this book but also a new version of The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. And the art in that title is perfectly nice, don't get me wrong. But if you're going to remember a book the Dillons did this year, it's going to be Never Forgotten.
Though they work in acrylics and watercolors on bristol board, the art here resembles hewn woodcuts. Figures have a carved, chopped feel to them, integrated with delicate patterns and details. The Dillons then alternate large full-page images with moments of spot illustration above, alongside, and below the individual sections. In this way the text and the images are seamlessly integrated. Now look at what they do with borders. In a given illustration the artists might surround an image with a thick black line. Then, as you would in a graphic novel, elements of the picture within will push out and leap past that border. Dinga's head and hands create a pure white space as he calls upon the elements to behold his son. The prow of a slave ship and the heads of its captives are the only portions able to escape the back borders of an auction scene. And then there's the use of skulls. They're everywhere in this book, often on the faces of the villains or lurking just behind them. You might see a ship captain's face as a skull in one scene or on an auctioneer in another. It's creepy and perfect. A subtle easy-to-miss element that drills home the horror.
One might quibble with the ending. At the story's close Dinga learns that his son works as a blacksmith, using his talents, and because of this he will possibly be freed "one day soon". Now whatever blacksmith Musafa works for, it seems highly unlikely that a man would free Musafa after detecting his valuable skills. We're deep into folktale territory here, so an unrealistic ending (the last page shows Musafa and his happy, smiling, presumably free family) is not a terrible thing. Still, it's important to make it clear to kids that Musafa's fate was the exception and not the rule. Pairing this with Laban Carrick Hill's Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave may be the best way to drill that idea home too. Like Musafa, Dave was talented. Unlike Musafa he was real and never freed because of his talents.
Now my musical theater nerdship makes its presence known. If I were to compare this book to anything, honestly, it would be to the musical Once On This Island. Where else would I have seen a story where the very elements of the world join together to aid a black child against a historical backdrop? I compare this book to a play mostly because there's little to compare it to in the picture book world. The works of the aforementioned Virginia Hamilton, perhaps, but she's one of the few authors that come to mind. No, Ms. McKissack is striding into new territory here. And while I might have tweaked that ending a bit, there's no denying that as a visual and audible product, Never Forgotten it is difficult to find a match. Beautiful and wrenching to its core, this is history made palatable for the younger set. Teach them with folktales and the real story will burn through in time. A true, unadulterated, original.
For ages 4 and up.
Tracks loosely with the novel "Roots," if that interests you. Roots: The Saga of an American Family
For more information about blacksmithing as an important trade in African cultures and for enslaved people in America, try Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad.
McKissack celebrates in this story "the son who was taken,/But never forgotten. She was inspired to write this tale by her curiosity about how African literature and music portrayed those ripped from their families by the slave trade. Clearly these individuals were mourned by their families, but she could not find any stories, dances, feasts or other stories about the "Taken," so she decided to write her own using elements of African folklore for her story. The free verse allows McKissack to create a rhythm to her language that in certain passages is reminiscent of drums beating.
This moving tale of family members loved and lost is magnificently illustrated by the two-time Caldecott Medal-winning team of Leo and Diane Dillon. The illustrations were created in acrylic and watercolor on bristol board, and the artistic style clearly shows the influence of African art. I will not be at all surprised to see this book honored with many awards, particularly for its powerful illustrations.