Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad

by Nancy Bo Flood on October 20, 2013

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AFRICA  IS  MY  HOME: A  CHILD  OF  THE  AMISTAD (Candlewick, 2103)  by Monica Edinger,  illustrated by Robert Byrd

Monica Edinger skillfully – and delightfully – tells an extraordinary story through the voice of a young girl who experiences an extraordinary journey.  Illustrator Robert Byrd fills the pages with detailed images that expand the text to further engage and inform the reader.

Amistad is a slave ship, but  it is not like any other slave ship.  Margru is a nine-year old girl from Sierra Leon, Africa, who is not like any other girl sold into slavery. “For them, I was just something to buy and something to sell.”

Even during the darkest times Margru remembers her beloved home in West Africa,

“one of the greenest places on earth… Shiny green palm trees surrounded my village, so tall I was certain that they touched the sky.  Every day my sisters and I walked along paths lined with green bamboo, past green rice fields, to bathe in a river full of green and pink water lilies.  We ate tiny green bananas, juicy green pineapple, and the tart green mangoes my oldest brother brought us … And the creatures! There were green butterflies, green parrots, green ducks….”

So green, so warm and beautiful!  That was Margru’s home, until she was nine when she was sold and put in chains and loaded onto the Amistad with other “slave cargo” in route to first Cuba and then the United States (1839)

Margru takes on each new challenge to survive with the unrelenting goal of somehow returning home.  Her first challenge was the seven weeks of being “cargo.”

“Seven weeks in a dark and airless hold.

  Seven weeks of heaving ocean.

  Seven weeks of chains and shackles.

  Seven weeks of sobs and cries.

  Seven weeks of pain and suffering.”

Then, rebellion! Margru watched, expecting her own swift death, as the slaves united and fought hand to hand, sword against bloody sword, and defeated the crew.  The ship was theirs!  But how would they return home?  They didn’t.  They were tricked into landing at Long Island, New York.

Then a series of court battles began.  The first trial was to determine if the slaves were guilty of mutiny and murder.  Maybe they would all be hung. After years of legalities and arguments of many lawyers, including former-president John Quincy Adams, eventually all of the slaves were set free and given permission to return to their home in Africa…if they could get there.

More challenges faced Margru.  First schooling to learn to read and write and then, eventually, a college education at Oberlin to become a teacher, and the reality of how to raise enough money to sail back across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Then, taking a deep breath, I turned my face east. 

Toward Africa. Toward home.”

Such a story, and so well told by Monica Edinger, who began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone. In the spring of 2000 she attended the Amistad exhibit and began her own journey to research Margru’s story, one of the children who traveled as slave cargo on the Amistad and eventually returned home to Sierra Leone.  Margru did in fact study at Oberlin College, earn her teaching degree, pen many letters about her life’s experiences, and return to Africa.  In Sierra Leone, Margru created a school for children, a school beneath the green, green shade of mango and palm trees, “one of the greenest places on earth.”

Linda Boyden October 22, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Margru’s story is one that needs to be told. I look forward to reading it. Thanks for the in-depth review.

Sheila Welch October 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Thanks, Nancy and Monica! I am ordering this book tonight. I’m looking forward to reading it and to seeing the illustrations. Judging by the cover, I think they’ll be very good. Interesting that many recent middle-grade books include black and white artwork.

Nancy Bo Flood October 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Thank you! The story is remarkable and Monika has captured both a child’s storytelling voice as well as presenting a depth of historical information. Margru’s story is one of dreams and hope becoming real.

Nancy Bo Flood October 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Sheila, yes, the illustrations are not only full of details that enrich the story but also archival photographs and maps. Margru’s photo-portrait is there as well with excerpts from her journal.

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