Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad

Overview

Inspired by a true account, here is the compelling story of a child who arrives in America on the slave ship Amistad —and eventually makes her way home to Africa.

When a drought hits her homeland in Sierra Leone, nine-year-old Magulu is sold as a pawn by her father in exchange for rice. But before she can work off her debt, an unthinkable chain of events unfolds: a capture by slave traders; weeks in a dark and airless hold; a landing in Cuba, where she and three other children ...

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Overview

Inspired by a true account, here is the compelling story of a child who arrives in America on the slave ship Amistad —and eventually makes her way home to Africa.

When a drought hits her homeland in Sierra Leone, nine-year-old Magulu is sold as a pawn by her father in exchange for rice. But before she can work off her debt, an unthinkable chain of events unfolds: a capture by slave traders; weeks in a dark and airless hold; a landing in Cuba, where she and three other children are sold and taken aboard the Amistad; a mutiny aboard ship; a trial in New Haven that eventually goes all the way to the Supreme Court and is argued in the Africans’ favor by John Quincy Adams. Narrated in a remarkable first-person voice, this fictionalized book of memories of a real-life figure retells history through the eyes of a child — from seeing mirrors for the first time and struggling with laughably complicated clothing to longing for family and a home she never forgets. Lush, full-color illustrations by Robert Byrd, plus archival photographs and documents, bring an extraordinary journey to life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/09/2013
In her first book for children, Edinger fuses fact and fiction, despair and hope in the story of a nine-year-old girl taken from her Sierra Leona homeland. After being sold to slave traders, Margru is banished to the “dark and airless” hold of a ship bound for Cuba, represented by a stark, all-black spread: “Seven weeks of chains and shackles. Seven weeks of sobs and cries.” In Havana, a white man buys Margru and three other children, and they are forced onto the Amistad. Margru provides an immediate account of the infamous slave mutiny onboard and the perpetrators’ imprisonment and trials in Connecticut; the Africans are eventually freed and sent home, where Margru later becomes a teacher. Margru’s descriptions of the strangeness of life in America and her homesickness for Sierra Leona are incisive and heartbreaking. Meticulously incorporated throughout the book’s design, along with reproductions of archival materials, Byrd’s (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) folk art–style ink-and-watercolor illustrations vividly capture the landscapes and people of West Africa, Cuba, and the U.S. Ages 10–up. Author’s agent: Stephen Barbara, Foundry Literary + Media. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Nine-year-old Margru loved her green homeland in Mendeland, West Africa. But when crops failed and starvation came to her family, she was pawned to work for a local man, where slave traders spotted her. Since her father could not afford to buy her back, Margru was sold as a slave and taken to the coast. By 1839 the slave trade had been banned in England, so these slaves were packed into a ship, sent to Spanish Cuba, and put aboard a coastal schooner, La Amistad, bound for another Cuban city. On the way, the slaves rebelled and took control of the ship, causing a sensation as they sailed along the east coast of the United States. When Edinger, who served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, learned that children were aboard Amistad, she began her research, planning to write a nonfiction work. Though she found many accounts of the trial that followed Amistad's capture by an American ship, Edinger decided to focus on Margru, telling her poignant story as fiction. Using information from letters, engravings, and newspaper articles, she succeeds admirably. Byrd's exquisite watercolor-and-ink illustrations bring characters vividly to life as the slaves are taken ashore in Connecticut, await trial, and try to adapt to a strange foreign land. Pictures showing contrast between the slaves' simple dress and the elaborate costumes of 1839 America are especially beguiling. Two lovely maps help readers locate events, while other illustrations follow the trial and Margru's further life and education in America. Best of all, for young readers captivated by her story, are Margru's dreams of Africa and eventual return to her beautiful green homeland. Impressively researched, designed, and produced (even to the Caslon Antique typeface), Margru's story has become a collaborative work of art. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—The events surrounding the abduction, mutiny, and legal trials of the Amistad Africans have been retold in a number of books, but few are told from the point of view of the children on the ship. In this novel based on the experiences of a real person, nine-year-old Magulu sails for seven weeks to Cuba on a slave ship. After being sold, she boards the Amistad. A rebellion leads to fighting and eventual jail time and several trials. Now 12 years old, she and the other children are finally declared free and allowed to return home. How she earns her passage and an education are part of this remarkable story of resilience, faith, and hope. Byrd's ink and watercolor illustrations show lush green areas of West Africa; as Magulu travels, the colors darken until she is returned to Africa. Highly detailed illustrations contrast life and dress in Africa with those in Cuba and Connecticut. The maps and recurring dream scenes are lovely and intriguing. Interspersed throughout the book are primary-image sources. Edinger gives Magulu a voice of her own as she narrates her story. The child's character is fleshed out as readers watch her grow from age nine when she is pawned during a drought to adulthood when she becomes a teacher in her beloved homeland. With more than 40 stunning illustrations, this unique narrative should find an appreciative audience.—Glynis Jean Wray, Ocean County Library, Toms River, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
In this text-heavy picture book, Edinger fictionalizes the story of Margru, a child whom slave traders transported in 1839 from Mendeland, West Africa, to Cuba and then to the United States on the Spanish slave ship the Amistad. Margru's father pawns his daughter at 9 in exchange for rice. When he is unable to redeem her, she is sold off to traders and forced to endure the Middle Passage. The child narrator effectively conveys her confusion at being treated savagely by people whose language and intentions she does not understand, as well as the meager comfort she finds in her two friends, Kagne and Teme, who are purchased along with her in Cuba. Throughout the story, Margru's dreams of home appear within round frames, thick with the flora and fauna of Africa. Edinger and Byrd punctuate the story with reproductions and snippets from archives, newspaper clippings, maps, letters and engravings--all of which reinforce its authenticity. While this book makes an important part of history accessible to child readers, it is not without flaws. Its illustrations are frequently cramped and offer minimal variety in the characters' skin tones and facial features. The narrative occasionally skips weeks or months without alerting readers, making parts of the story befuddling. Nevertheless, this book gives middle-grade readers a starting point for understanding this landmark episode in American history, in which slaves fought through the court system and won. (author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
[T]his book makes an important part of history accessible to child readers...
—Kirkus Reviews

[F]ascinating. A little known story filled with original research that’s a great read from start to finish. ... [N]othing comes close to "Africa Is My Home" in terms of sure research, heart, blood, sweat, and tears... it works so well on the page as to seem effortless.
—A Fuse #8 Production

Margru’s descriptions of the strangeness of life in America and her homesickness for Sierra Leona are incisive and heartbreaking. Meticulously incorporated throughout the book’s design, along with reproductions of archival materials, Byrd’s (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) folk art–style ink-and-watercolor illustrations vividly capture the landscapes and people of West Africa, Cuba, and the U.S.
—Publishers Weekly

Edinger avoids sensationalism without underselling the more disturbing parts of the story... An author’s note describes Edinger’s motivation in seeking out Margru’s story and traces some of her research methods, but it is her skill in imagining Margru’s life from those original sources that opens up this episode in history to young readers.
—The Horn Book

The storybooklike narrative of a child torn between two worlds is captivating, and Byrd’s finely lined color illustrations add to the story, as do reproductions of historical documents.
—Booklist

The prose is taut, and Magulu has a friendly voice, while Byrd’s sprightly, delicately lined ink and watercolor illustrations are filled with deep visual detail. A few archival document reproductions are interspersed, captioned in Magulu’s voice, adding to the sense that readers are having a conversation with the past.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Edinger tells the story of Margru's long journey home, supporting her fictionalized narrative with primary sources like news clippings and engravings. The best of Byrd's exquisite ink-and-watercolor pictures show Margru sleeping under New England quilts while dream images of Africa wreath her head.
—The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763650384
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 294,675
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Monica Edinger is an educator and reviews children’s books for the New York Times, The Horn Book, and other publications. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone. Monica Edinger lives and works in New York City.

Robert Byrd is the illustrator of the Newbery Medal–winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz as well as numerous other award-winning books. He lives in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

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