I think it would suffice to use only one word to convince readers to pick up this book.
That word would be a name.
That name would be Kadir.
That's the only word you would need, BUT that would do both Kadir Nelson and his art a huge disservice. For each of his books is unique and each one deserves it own place. Nelson Mandela is a lyrically-written and stunningly-illustrated biography.
The cover illustration is arresting, arresting in how much it embodies Nelson Mandela - his energy, his understanding, his quiet power. This is a knowing face. This is a kind but resolute face. This is the face of a man that has seen and understands. Kadir Nelson has captured the qualities of Nelson Mandela that resonate with me -- his eyes, his mouth, and that wrinkle across his forehead. I think that wrinkle came from his concern for his people, the people of South Africa.
Kadir begins the story at the first turning point in Mandela's life - the period when his father dies and he is sent off to Johannesburg for school. The story follows Mandela's life, from his Xhosa roots to his eventual election as President of South Africa. Readers learn of Mandela's time learning from the elders, his education, his rise to power, and his arrest.
The spare and poignant verse is accompanied by rich and glorious illustrations.
Kadir Nelson understands people. The expressions on his faces convey more information and impart more understanding than words possibly could. I love that Nelson Mandela's worry wrinkle caries throughout the book. I love those eyes that have seen so much, that have called him to be a witness, that saw South Africa to freedom and a new journey.
Kadir Nelson understands light. I love the way the light falls upon the people and their faces. I love the way the light brings the reader exactly where Kadir wants him or her to be.
Kadir Nelson understands perspective. Kadir shifts perspective through the story to ensure the reader understands the context in which Mandela lived. This shifting perspective also gives the reader a sense of the people working in and around Mandela. Kadir brings the reader right up close at the moments in Mandela's life when we, the readers, want to be right up close.
Kadir Nelson understands. He understands the need to share hope and dignity of a person like Nelson Mandela to today's young readers. His understanding of and respect for Nelson Mandela is apparent throughout the book. I was in college when the Specials released their song, Free Nelson Mandela. I had heard of Nelson Mandela before this time, but this song made him a hero for my generation.
"My friends, comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people."
Kadir Nelson has included additional details on Mandela's life in the author's note. You can also read about Mandela's release on the NPR and BBC Websites.
Nelson Mandela brings to life a modern-day hero. A hero who showed South Africans, and those of us in the rest of the world, that people, those with and without power, can effect change.