Graphic Biographies For Black History Month

Author: Jack Goodstein
Published: January 30, 2012 at 9:37 pm
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With Black History Month set to begin in February, parents interested in educational material for their children may want to take a look at two new publications in the Campfire Graphic Biography series. Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul and Muhammad Ali: The King of the Ring, both written by Lewis Helfand, are aimed at the older child. They focus on the biographical narrative to illustrate the importance of the men as dynamic leaders in the struggles of their people for equality and dignity as well as their contributions to the world community. Both men are seen as inspirational figures.

Nelson Mandela, illustrated by Sankha Banerjee, begins in 1985 with the future South African President in Pollsmoor Prison. It then goes back to his birth in 1918 where he was given a name we are told is translated as "troublemaker." It goes on to highlight his early life, his political involvement with the ANC, his years in prison, and his role in shaping the new society after his release and the end of apartheid. Unlike most Campfire editions, ninety percent of this book is in black and white. It is only at the end when apartheid has been defeated that the story bursts out in color.

The Muhammad Ali biography, illustrated by Lalit Kumar Sharma, also begins in medias res, with the young Cassius Clay set to fight Cory Baker in 1958, before taking readers back to the boxer's childhood in Louisville, Kentucky. It talks about his early career and explains how he was encouraged to adopt a gimmick—predicting the round he would knock out his opponent—to capture public attention. It describes his embrace of the Nation of Islam, his championship fights, his refusal to be inducted into the army, and the stripping of his title. It details his comeback and his public service throughout the world after retiring from the ring, ending with his award of the Presidential Medal of Honor.

Both editions include posters which can be detached from the book. The Ali biography has an interesting feature on making graphic novels, and an appendix discussing the records some of the other boxers Ali fought and well as his daughter. The Mandela biography's appendix is a glossary and a reprint of William Ernest Henley's "Invictus," a poem that Mandela looked to for strength during his darkest periods.

 
 

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Article Author: Jack Goodstein

Retired Professor of English Literature now taking up acting and free lance writing from the wilds of Western Pennsylvania.

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