Carnival has become part of life in towns and cities across the UK and together with the parades held especially in the winter they are now part of the cultural scene. The first one in the UK (and still the largest) is the Notting Hill carnival, which began in 1966 and this is the centre of Man-man’s story. I became much more aware of the importance of carnival when I worked in Bristol and St Paul’s was one of my libraries. I remember a gentleman coming to the library and having a discussion about a children’s book written about 1970 and telling the story of the St Paul’s carnival, using photos of the preparations and event; we were able to find a copy of the title in the store and he was able to show us pictures of him and his friends taking part. At the time, there were very few books covering the subject, but I am pleased to say that the situation appears to have improved, with a good range of both fiction and information books covering the topic.
This latest title is a wonderful evocation of the power of carnival and the way that people react in different ways to the culture and energy of the event. Man-man and his sister Pan, together with their friend Kareem, are practicing their dance moves, so that they can be part of a carnival float at Notting Hill; however with Man-man’s mother being ill and his visiting grandma grumbling about the way they dance, things are not going well. On the day of the parade they are all wearing their costumes and ready to enjoy the moment, although Man-man is still worried about his mother. As he dances on the float, he asks the spirit “Queen of Revels” to help his mother; what he does not expect is for the spirit to answer him and carry both him and his companions back to the African past and to the Tree of memories, which was a symbol for those being taken into slavery. What they learn there has a profound impact on them and makes Man-man believe that his mother will get better; so that when they return to the carnival it is with a much more optimistic attitude.
This really is a fabulous story of family, culture, history and community. It is beautifully illustrated with an exuberant use of colour and a real sense of energy and movement. I particularly love the relationship between the three main characters and especially the sibling backchat, which hides their real affection for each other. The author has given us a real sense of the excitement that leads up to carnival and the wonderful spirit that is shown through the community working together to make it all a success. Whilst this is an exciting and overall positive tale, it does introduce the young audience to aspects of west African history that are so important and which can then be discussed in class, or with family. There are definitely five stars shining for this one.
Yaba Badoe is a Ghanaian-British documentary filmmaker and writer. A graduate of King’s College Cambridge, she was a civil servant in Ghana before becoming a general trainee with the BBC. She has taught in Spain and Jamaica and worked at the University of Ghana. Her short stories have been published in Critical Quarterly, African Love Stories:an anthology and New Daughters of Africa. Her first adult novel, True Murder, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2009. Her first YA novel, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars, was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award in 2018 and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award 2018. The Secret of the Purple Lake, a collection of interlinked fairy stories for children aged 9 to 12 was published by Cassava Republic in October 2017. She lives in London.
Joelle Avelino is a Congolese and Angolan Illustrator who grew up in the United Kingdom. She obtained a BA (Hons) in Illustration with Marketing from the University of Hertfordshire. She is particularly motivated by the need for people from all races and backgrounds to see themselves in the world around them.
Her most recent children’s book, written by best selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘Mama’s Sleeping Scarf’, will be published in September 2023. It is a tender story that celebrates the simple joys of family life.
She has also worked on several other titles including Hey You! Written by Dapo Adeola, a 2022, British Book Awards winner. An empowering celebration of growing up black and she worked on the 25th anniversary edition of Baroness Floella Benjamin’s classic memoir Coming to England. Her animation project with the Malala Fund was featured as one of Design Week’s favourite International Women’s Day projects of 2020.
Other titles of interest
“The door of no return” by Sarah Mussi (Hodder, 2007) is the first story that I read about this infamous door in Ghana, which led captives out to the slave ships and the hideous consequences. It is unfortunately now out of print, but I do recommend getting your hands on a second-hand copy if possible.
“The door of no return” by Kwame Alexander , Andersen press, 2023 is a new title set during the period of the slave trade. It has received very positive reviews and is by a fantastic author.