I have been a CYBILS judge for the past four years. In 2008, I judged YA nonfiction, then moved to Elementary Nonfiction for 2009 and 2010. This year, I'm judging poetry, and to be really honest, I'm more than a little overwhelmed/intimidated. How in the world can I ever begin to capture the magnificence of books like Patricia McKissack's NEVER FORGOTTEN?
In an author's note, McKissack says that NEVER FORGOTTEN began when she wondered how African parents grieved and remembered the children who had been captured by slave traders. She turned to African history and folktales. From those roots came NEVER FORGOTTEN, the story of Dinga, a blacksmith from the Mende tribe. Dinga's wife dies in childbirth, and Dinga goes against tribal customs and decides he will raise his son, Mustafa. He calls on the four elements-- Earth, Fire, Water and Wind-- to help him raise his son. When Mustafa is twelve, he is kidnapped by slave traders. Dinga searches for his son, grieves for him, and then calls on the Elements to discover his son's fate…
I guess I will just start by saying that NEVER FORGOTTEN is magnificent in every way imaginable. McKissack tells Dinga and Mustafa's story through a series of approximately 20 poems. The poems are a cross between history and folklore, with African drum sound effects. Listen for a minute…
Water Maiden sang to the boy child
An old, old lullaby:
A baby has come.
He has come,
And happiness has come.
A boy has come.
He has come.
And laughter has come.
A son has come.
He has come,
And beauty has come.
When the child gurgled in reply,
She tickled his toes and said,
"Even now I can hear music in his voice.
Shum Da Da We Da Shum Da Da We Da."
Then, as if all of this glorious language was not enough, the book is illustrated by Caldecott winners Leo and Diane Dillon. Their woodcut illustrations are absolutely gorgeous- incredible detail, rich color, varied page design- possibly even worthy of another Caldecott consideration?
I will definitely be reading this to my fourth graders. I could also see using it in a high school or college history class. It's just about perfect…