First Names: Nelson (MANDELA)

By Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl & Nicole Miles (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-097-3 (PB)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

David Fickling Books provides other types of reading matter: novels, graphic novels and a newish imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

First Names introduces young readers to noteworthy achievers rightly deemed role models and adds now to its roster an absolute legend: the man who defied modern society’s greatest tyranny, defeated an entrenched oppression and changed the lives and minds of millions if not billions of people.

Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed, and are generally bright, breezy, easily-accessible hagiographies with the emphasis on graphics. That doesn’t mean that they pull any punches when the facts warrant, though…

Written by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, First Names: Nelson (MANDELA) details the astounding life and ultimate triumph of the rational, gentle-minded freedom fighter who endured decades of personal hardship while shepherding his nation through an all-but-bloodless revolution to a tolerant liberation.

The amazing story begins with Introduction ‘Nelson Arrives At The Great Place’, describing how the 12-year old lad arrives at the royal residence of the acting king of the Thembu people. It is 1930 in the Transkei region of South Africa…

The full story begins then with the antecedents and early childhood of small boy Rolihlahla as winningly described in chapter 1: ‘Nelson is Named’ before encompassing school, family joy and heartbreak and relating how a carefree cattle boy with few clan connections grows into a scholar of promise in ‘Nelson Gets Some Boots’ and rejects tribal plans to seek personal independence as ‘Nelson Heads For The City’

Studies, setbacks, marriage and political transformation are deftly covered as 4‘Nelson Joins The Fight’ and 5‘Nelson Stirs Things Up’, whereafter the forthright but breezy tone takes a darker turn as the struggle against South Africa’s white minority rulers starts to bite.

Chapter 6 reveals ‘Nelson Goes On Trial’ and covers life on the run in ‘Nelson Undercover’ before the more public stages of this remarkable life are covered in ‘Nelson Makes His Plea’ and the concluding Chapter 9: ‘Nelson Casts His First Vote’, after which an ‘Epilogue’ deals with the later years of rule, reconciliation and retirement.

This is a subject with plenty of controversial and complex issues for kids to unpack, but the author has illustrator Nicole Miles putting faces to the names and places in smart cartoon collations such as ‘Didn’t you ever lose faith?’, ‘The Awful Passbook Laws’ ‘South Africa’s Horrible Racial Divide’ and brilliantly deals with potentially contentious issues by clever visual essays such as ‘Nelson Explains: Apartheid’ and ‘Nelson Explains: Life on Robben Island’.

There’s also plenty of visual sidebars detailing the basics with background detail like ‘My Tribe and Ancestry’, ‘How South Africa was Conquered’, ‘Circumcision’, and ‘Arranged Marriages’.

Ending the fun is a cool and crucial ‘Pronunciation Guide’ as well as a detailed Timeline (1918-2013), full Glossary and Index appendices for those eager to check out the facts and educate themselves even further…

Working in tandem with delicate sensitivity, the creators have constructed a superb introduction into the most remarkable man of modern times: a book any kid would be proud to share with interested adults.
First Names: Nelson (MANDELA) Text © Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl 2021. Illustrations © Nicole Miles 2021. All rights reserved.