African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History

Algonquin. Oct. 2021. 176p. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781616209001.
Gr 6-10–To remedy the practice of limiting lesson plans on Black history to enslavement, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement, Baptiste sheds light on the rich and complex pre-enslavement history of the African continent, much of which has been long buried because of the bias and racism of white gatekeepers. Thankfully, Baptiste has unearthed them for young readers through copious research and synthesized them into a spellbinding collection that spotlights 10 historical figures, including writers, kings and queens, and military leaders. Each profile opens with a majestic portrait by Wilson, whose palette of purples and golds imbues the subjects with a regal feel. Interstitial chapters provide background on geography, historical context, and technology. Transitions between selections are smooth; the volume reads more like a cohesive narrative than a group of entries. The language is accessible to upper elementary readers, but the book will find a better home in middle school libraries. The back matter is a librarian’s dream, with almost 14 pages of bibliography and source notes, in addition to notes from the author and designer, an index, and further reading. Educators should use this work to discuss how bias in research and history has resulted in groundbreaking figures of color being pushed to the margins.
VERDICT An impeccably researched revelation that fills a too wide gap in collections; it’s unfair how long it’s taken for these histories to be made public to young readers.

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