Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song

by Kathryn Erskine (Author) Charly Palmer (Illustrator)

Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Miriam Makeba, a Grammy Award-winning South African singer, rose to fame in the hearts of her people at the pinnacle of apartheid--a brutal system of segregation similar to American Jim Crow laws. Mama Africa, as they called her, raised her voice to help combat these injustices at jazz clubs in Johannesburg; in exile, at a rally beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and before the United Nations.

Set defiantly in the present tense, this biography offers readers an intimate view of Makeba's fight for equality. Kathryn Erskine's call-and-response style text and Charly Palmer's bold illustrations come together in a raw, riveting duet of protest song and praise poem. A testament to how a single voice helped to shake up the world--and can continue to do so.

School Library Journal

Gr 2-5--Miriam Makeba was a South African singer who used her talent to challenge apartheid and to encourage South Africans to rail against injustice. Early in her career, Makeba decided to sing in Setswana, IsiXhosa, and IsiZulu precisely because the white ruling class did not speak those languages. A sense of rising tension is unmistakable throughout the text, and each of Makeba's hopeful successes is followed by further struggle, finally culminating in Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the slow end of apartheid in South Africa. Debut illustrator Palmer's painterly spreads shine in rich colors and bold brushstrokes, capturing the passion of Makeba mid-song. In other spreads, scenes of an armed white police officer demanding the transit pass of a black man who has stepped outside of his neighborhood boundary, and a lone child who has survived the massacre of school children at Soweto, all speak acutely to the landscape of apartheid that shaped Mama Africa's career. Erksine spent some of her childhood living in apartheid South Africa, and she shares her own experiences and connection to Makeba's music at length in the back matter. VERDICT A welcome addition to picture book biography collections.--Lauren Younger, New York Public Library

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

National Book Award-winner Erskine (Mockingbird) takes readers to the South Africa of her childhood as she follows the rise of singer/activist Miriam Makeba. The injustice of apartheid, omnipresent in Makeba's life, extends into the book's design: sections of text about the white "baases" in power appear in white boxes, while passages about Makeba and anti-apartheid movements are set in separate black boxes: "She sings to her people to be brave. 'Jolinkomo!' She sings of police raids. 'Khawuleza!' " In his first children's book, Palmer uses thick, forceful brushstrokes to create vibrant, abstracted portraits of Makeba and her South African home. This rousing account of how Makeba used her music to fight for equality concludes with a timeline and extensive author's note. Ages 6-10. Author's agent: Kendra Marcus, Bookstop Literary. (Oct.)

Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Kathryn Erskine

Kathryn Erskine is the National Book Award-winning author of Mockingbird. She has also written Seeing Red, The Absolute Value of Mike, and The Badger Knight. She lived in South Africa for part of her childhood, and grew up listening to Miriam Makeba's songs. Mama Africa! is her first picture book.

Charly Palmer is a graphic designer, illustrator, and fine artist. As a child, he was fascinated by Ezra Jack Keats's illustrations for The Snowy Day, which inspired Charly's own use of color and geometric shapes. He studied art and design at the American Academy of Art and the School of the Art Institute, both in Chicago. Mama Africa! is his first picture book.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
October 20, 2017
Age Range
6 - 10 years
Coretta Scott King Award
Winner 2018
John Steptoe New Talent Award
Winner 2018

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