Tree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela


The defendants had little hope of winning the case.... On the first day of the trial, Mandela startled the courtroom by arriving in the traditional leopard-skin cloak of Xhosa royalty to dramatize the fact that he was an African entering a white man's court.... "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination," he told the court. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ...
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The defendants had little hope of winning the case.... On the first day of the trial, Mandela startled the courtroom by arriving in the traditional leopard-skin cloak of Xhosa royalty to dramatize the fact that he was an African entering a white man's court.... "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination," he told the court. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and see realized. But if it need be, my lord, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." They were found guilty, as they knew they would be.... Mandela was forty-four years old when he entered prison. He would be seventy-one when he was released.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, offers a balanced, thoughtful account of Mandela's political activism and accomplishments and his pivotal role in South Africa's modern history. The book's title is a translation of Mandela's birth name, Rohihlahla, which, both fittingly and ironically, refers to a troublemaker. As bureau chief for the Timesin Johannesburg from 1992 to 1995 (he won a Pulitzer Prize for his work there), Keller witnessed Mandela's campaign for president and South Africa's transition from apartheid to granting full citizenship-and voting rights-to black and white South Africans alike. Keller's personal experience and contact with Mandela imbues his often graceful prose with immediacy and offers insight into the leader's personality ("In my time watching him at work, I often marveled at his ability to wear down hostility through endless patience, gentle humor, and charm"). Reprints of 15 pertinent Timesarticles, four written by Keller, give additional dimension to the biography, although the graphically intense design-packed with dramatic photos, swathes of paint,handprints and images of the African continent-may be somewhat cluttered (color art not seen by PW). A solid portrait of an awe-inspiring man. Ages 10-14. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 9 to 12.

When Nelson Mandela was born, his parents named him Rolihlahla, the Xhosa word for tree shaker. When he was about seven years old, his teacher first called him Nelson, probably in honor of Admiral Lord Nelson, the great British naval commander. This young man grew up to change the way the world perceived Africa. The text is very dense, and probably in many cases beyond the reach of many readers in the intended reading range. However, numerous photographs and sidebars will help readers navigate the story of this extraordinary leader and hero to so many. The book also contains detailed information about apartheid and the political situation in Africa, life in various parts of Africa, and the relationship between Africa and the world. The text includes several New York Times articles about Mandela through the years, as well as a time line, source notes, picture credits, and a detailed index. This is a New York Times book. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger

School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Keller draws on his years of experience as the Johannesburg bureau chief for the New York Times in this compact profile of South Africa's leading political figure. Beginning with the 1994 visit of Mandela and his surviving fellow former prisoners to Robben Island, he looks back to the history of white colonization and the National Party's introduction of formal apartheid in the mid-20th century. The treatment of Mandela's rise from a student headed for a career in tribal government to leader and revolutionary in the antiapartheid resistance movement, then political prisoner and eventual president of his country, is absorbing and fair-minded. Keller doesn't gloss over the less-savory aspects of Mandela's character ("He sometimes misled his allies and manipulated his followers. He was willing to let innocent people die in the cause of liberation"), but paints a portrait of a man of courage and leadership who, when faced with difficult choices, did whatever was necessary to achieve his goal. The period spent in prison ("Robben Island University") is covered briefly, and the author's compelling first-person account of postapartheid unrest emphasizes the messy reality of the major social upheavals that make up history. Articles from the Times and other sources provide historical viewpoints on apartheid and Mandela's story. Well-chosen black-and-white and full-color photographs enhance the text. A good first purchase for biography and current-events collections.-Rebecca Donnelly, Loma Colorado Public Library, Rio Rancho, NM

From the Publisher
"With its striking layout, bright graphics and photographs on almost every page, Keller's biography of Mandela vibrates with the feeling of history come alive."—The New York Times

"Keller's vivid writing brings to life his subject and the complex history of South Africa."—The Horn Book Guide

"On-the-spot reporting of the end of apartheid, of Mandela's release from prison, and the excitement of the countrys first democratic elections makes this more than the usual biography." —Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780753459928
  • Publisher: Kingfisher
  • Publication date: 1/15/2008
  • Series: New York Times Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: NC1270L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.21 (w) x 8.11 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Keller has worked at The New York Times for more than twenty years, serving as executive editor, domestic correspondent, foreign correspondent, foreign editor, managing editor, and currently as an op-ed columnist. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Soviet Union in 1989 and was chief of the Johannesburg bureau from 1992 to 1995, witnessing firsthand the remarkable events that led to the first free election in South Africa. He lives in New York. Combining the experience of New York Times journalists with extensive photograph and article archives, New York Times books bring politics, science, history, and contemporary issues to a new generation of readers.

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Read an Excerpt

The Tree Shaker
The Story of Nelson Mandela
By Bill Keller
Kingfisher Books
Copyright © 2008 Bill Keller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-753-45992-8

Chapter One
Mandela had started life as a child of royalty, had become the country's most notorious outlaw, and was now an emblem of moral courage around the globe.

South Africa was nearing the most thrilling moment in its history. For more than three hundred years, a minority of whites had gotten their way in this naturally abundant land. For the past half a century, whites had ruled under a bizarre system called apartheid, which stripped nonwhites of power and dignity by treating them as aliens in their own land. The cruelties of this arrangement led to violent unrest in the country and made South Africa a popular horror story around the world.

This visit to Robben Island was an election campaign stunt, the kind of staged event reporters usually hate. But none of us complained as we were herded from one photo opportunity to another. The day felt charged with history and symbolism. Soon South African blacks, for so long denied a voice in their own government, would be allowed to cast the first votes of their lives, and the former outcasts would be running the country.

It was hard to imagine, watching Mandela and his former cellmates explore the scene of their captivity, that the white South African government had once regarded these old men as dangerous terrorists. Govan Mbeki, the oldest of the group, was now was now eighty-three. With his wispy hair and owlish glasses, he looked like a retired professor. The youngest, Ahmed Kathrada, was sixty-four years old now-the son of immigrants from India, he was a thoughtful man who had earned multiple college degrees while in prison. As the six men swapped memories and hammed it up for photographers, they seemed like senior citizens on a field trip.

Yet these men had been defendants together in one of the great courtroom dramas of the twentieth century. They had been found guilty of plotting to overthrow the apartheid government by force-in fact, they had proudly admitted to the crime and narrowly escaped being hanged.

For several hours we toured the island by bus and listened to the former inmates describe the drudgery and petty humiliations of prison routine. We drove to the limestone quarry, where they had spent their days in the dust and glare, crushing stone to be used for road gravel. A cameraman persuaded the old boys to stand together in the brilliant sunshine and sing one of the liberation songs that helped them pass the days of hard labor. Then we rode to their old cellblock, where Mandela posed for pictures in his cell-a cage so narrow that when Mandela, who is over six feet tall, had stretched out on his straw mat to sleep, his feet touched one wall and his head grazed the other.

The former prisoners were welcomed by the new prison commander with a nervous smile and a meal of chicken and vegetables in the VIP guesthouse, and then Mandela held a press conference. His campaign advisers had told him that on this day-at the height of an election campaign-the world was hungry for stories of his suffering and endurance. And so, in a sad, husky voice, tears brimming in his eyes, he talked of his anguish when prison guards brought him the news that his mother had died and then, the following year, that his son had been killed in an auto accident. He had pleaded for permission to attend their funerals, but it was denied.

Mandela spoke of the hurt and helplessness he and his compatriots had felt knowing their wives and children were being harassed, expelled from jobs and schools, exiled or imprisoned. He described how after the government would impose some new suffering on his family, a mean-spirited guard would leave a newspaper clipping about it in Mandela's cell, just to rub it in.

The truth is, though, that Mandela and his comrades were not much interested in describing the torments of prison life. On the contrary, they talked with cheerful nostalgia about their days on Robben Island. In prison, they told us, they had studied and argued and debated. They plotted escapes and swapped messages in invisible ink. They honed their tactics for dealing with white authority, and they created an old-boy network that would remain an essential source of strength long after their release. Ahmed Kathrada told me that now that they were free men, they sometimes missed the time for leisurely thought and discussion they had enjoyed in prison.

I realized, watching these gentle grandfathers laughing over their memories, that Robben Island was not just their prison. It had been their university. They had graduated from this place ready to change the world. And now the old men were about to finish their work.


Excerpted from The Tree Shaker by Bill Keller Copyright © 2008 by Bill Keller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted November 18, 2008

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    Reviewed by Steph for

    TREE SHAKER is a very informative and colorful book written by Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of The New York Times. The entire book is written like one long article, broken up by chapters and festive with many colorful pictures. <BR/><BR/>It tells the story of Nelson Mandela's life -- from childhood to becoming the first black South African president -- and his impact on South Africa and the world. <BR/><BR/>This book was very informative; somewhat like a history textbook but with many colorful pictures and interesting story and dialogues in between the factual parts. <BR/><BR/>This book is highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn about the life of a man who impacted the world with his brilliance and determination for black equality among a white supremacist country.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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