Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Our ­Ancestories. Nov. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781777117900.
PreS-Gr 3–The first entry of a fiction series about African history centers on Idia, the first Iyoba (Queen Mother) of the Kingdom of Benin from 1504-1550. The book opens on Idia’s childhood after she dreams that she fights in a battle and treats the wounded. In her community, however, men are the sole leaders and warriors. In exchange for practicing dancing and doing chores, her father and mother, respectively, agree to teach her about being a warrior and a healer. Later, her abilities catch the eye of the Oba (King) and as she entertains his proposal of marriage, she dreams that she is destined to rule and help her son during his time as Oba. The tale ends with her marriage. Back matter includes a map and the facts of the tale, that Idia did indeed excel in battle, creating a plan to disguise herself as a man to help defend the kingdom from attackers. Aire’s #OwnVoices debut hooks readers with the initial dream sequence to draw them into the arc of Idia’s life. Substantial text (in a difficult-to-read font) appears on each page, accompanied by Shabelnyk’s radiant digital images and glowing scenery. As a child, Idia wears bantu knots and a white wrapped dress. She has deep brown skin and large almond-shaped eyes. White, red, and gold dominate the apparel of her community, and lush green and warm yellows and tans make up the grasses and surrounding huts and earth. Several key images are more complex and painterly, featuring detailed body art and jewelry.
VERDICT This unique story lyrically fills an obvious hole in picture books, animating a powerful figure and showing children that they can achieve their dreams, literal or metaphorical, through perseverance.

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