Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali

Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali

by Khephra Burns, Leo & Diane Dillon, Leo Dillon

When an evening celebration in his village is disrupted by the cries of slave raiders, young Kankan Musa runs to find his spear, but in a moment he is taken. Suddenly, the world he has known is gone. Is he to be a slave? Or will destiny carry this son of a proud people to a different future?
Caldecott Medalists Leo and Diane Dillon capture the grandeur of


When an evening celebration in his village is disrupted by the cries of slave raiders, young Kankan Musa runs to find his spear, but in a moment he is taken. Suddenly, the world he has known is gone. Is he to be a slave? Or will destiny carry this son of a proud people to a different future?
Caldecott Medalists Leo and Diane Dillon capture the grandeur of Africa's ancient empires, lands, and people in stunning paintings as this richly imagined tale of the boyhood of Mansa Musa, one of Mali's most celebrated kings, carries us across the continent on a triumphant journey of self-discovery.

Editorial Reviews

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. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This lavishly illustrated story recounts the legend of Mansa Musa, a fourteenth century African king. Raised in the village of Kaba Kangaba, Kankan (later known as Mansa Musa) has an ordinary boyhood until slave raiders arrive and take him away from his family. Purchased by a mysterious stranger, Kankan and his master embark on a voyage of awareness and self-discovery. Kankan learns that his homeland, Mali, is unknown in most parts of the wide world. Inspired by spiritual encounters with Simbon, a lion who is king of beasts and men, Kankan is determined to return home and lead his people to greatness. An author's note explains that historically, Kankan/Mansa Musa fostered a great empire that possibly encompassed all of Africa. His kingdom became famous throughout the world for its great wealth and generosity. Some even believe that Kankan's brother reached the New World before Columbus. 2001, Harcourt, $18.00. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-In what amounts to a bildungsroman, Burns recounts the coming-of-age of Mansa Musa, one of Mali's most celebrated kings. After the death of Sundiata, the kingdom of Mali began to decline. Life, however, is still good in the countryside of the once-great nation. One evening, a shrouded stranger in blue arrives in the small village of Kaba Kangaba. Fascinated by the mysterious visitor, young Kankan Musa joins the rest of his village at a gathering to listen to Tariq al-Aya, a member of the Tuareg tribe of the north. The meeting is disrupted by a slave raid and Kankan is carried off. Thus begins his decade of tutelage under Tariq and his transformation from provincial village boy to king of Mali. Well told, with excellent use of pacing and suspense, this yarn would hold attention on its own, but the breathtaking layout of the book greatly enhances the narrative. Creamy buff paper backs the clear double-column text, embellished with inset borders and small illustrations. Half- to full-page detailed, jewel-toned art in the Dillons' signature style makes this a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. Booktalking Mansa Musa with David Wisniewski's Sundiata (Clarion, 2001) will allow children to access the history of ancient Mali in a way that showcases two very different, but equally effective, storytelling and illustrative styles.-Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Illustrated by the Dillons (Two Little Trains, p. 561, etc.) at their most magisterial, this original tale of the youth of Kankan Musa, the most renowned royal descendant of the great king of Mali, Sundiata, makes a grand, compelling, sumptuously presented narrative. Captured by slavers and sold to a wandering mystic, Kankan Musa spends seven years learning the ways of the desert, seeing the wonders of Egypt, and facing death in several forms as he grows in wisdom and inner strength. Returning home at last, he is welcomed with jubilance, and later begins a reign so dazzling that his fame spreads even to benighted Europe. Burns (Black Stars in Orbit, not reviewed) relates events in measured, oratorical prose. Matching his formality, the Dillons draw on Renaissance manuscript art for inspiration, placing small, richly clad, precisely detailed figures in front of land- or cityscapes seen in compressed perspective, opposite pages of text featuring illuminated initials and spaces filled out with patterned bars. The author distinguishes fact from fancy in an afterword, and closes with a booklist for readers eager to travel on. As much about Mansa Musa's inner journey to selfhood as his outer coming of age, this is a feast for the eye and spirit both. (Illustrated fiction. 10-12)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
10.00(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

LEO and DIANE DILLON together illustrated more than twenty-five acclaimed and award-winning books for children, including the Caldecott Medal winner Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema, a retelling of the opera Aida by Leontyne Price, and their own Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >