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The Best South Africa Kids Books

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Railway Jack: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon
Written by KT Johnston & illustrated by César Samaniego
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Jim was a South African railway inspector in the late 1800s who lost his legs in an accident while at work. Unable to perform all his tasks with his disability but desperate to keep his job, Jim discovered a brilliant solution, a baboon named Jack. Jim trained Jack to help him both at home and at the depot. But when the railway authorities and the public discovered a monkey on the job, Jack and Jim had to work together to convince everyone that they made a great team. This inspiring true story celebrates the history of service animals and a devoted friendship.

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Little Guides to Great Lives: Nelson Mandela
Written by Isabel Thomas & illustrated by Hannah Warren
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 7-11

Anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist, Nelson Mandela’s journey from political prisoner to president of South Africa is an incredible tale of triumph in the face of adversity. 2018 marks a hundred years since his birth.

From artists to aviators and scientists to revolutionaries, Little Guides to Great Lives is a brand new series of small-format guides introducing children to the most inspirational figures from history in a fun, accessible way. Launching with Leonardo da Vinci, Marie Curie, Nelson Mandela, and Amelia Earhart, Little Guides to Great Lives tells the stories of the most amazing people from all over the world and across history, with full-color illustrations and fresh design to bring their incredible stories to life.

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$11.99
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Hector: A Boy, a Protest, and the Photograph That Changed Apartheid
Written by Adrienne Wright
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-11

A Junior Library Guild Selection!

On June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson, an ordinary boy, lost his life after getting caught up in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Black South African students were marching against a new law requiring that they be taught half of their subjects in Afrikaans, the language of the White government. The story's events unfold from the perspectives of Hector, his sister, and the photographer who captured their photo in the chaos. This book can serve as a pertinent tool for adults discussing global history and race relations with children. Its graphic novel style and mixed media art portray the vibrancy and grit of Hector's daily life and untimely death.

Heartbreaking yet relevant, this powerful story gives voice to an ordinary boy and sheds light on events that helped lead to the end of apartheid.

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Grandad Mandela
Written & illustrated by Zindzi Mandela, Ziwelene Mandela, and Zazi Mandela
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

Two great-grandchildren ask their grandmother 15 questions about the man they remember as Grandad, and the world remembers as Nelson Mandela, the global icon of peace and forgiveness who spent 27 years in prison. They learn that he was a freedom fighter who put down his weapons for the sake of peace, and who then became the President of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize-winner, and realise that they can continue his legacy in the world today. Seen through a child’s perspective, and authored jointly by his great-grandchildren and daughter, this amazing story is told as never before to celebrate what would have been Nelson’s Mandela 100th birthday.

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Who Was Nelson Mandela?
Written by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso & illustrated by Stephen Marchesi
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Describes the life of the South African president and revolutionary, from his childhood and his work as a peaceful protestor to his twenty-seven-year imprisonment, his election as president, and his work to end apartheid in South Africa.

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  • Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song - Miriam Makeba, a Grammy Award–winning South African singer, rose to fame in the hearts of her people at the pinnacle of apartheid―a brutal system of segregation similar to American Jim Crow laws. Mama Africa, as they called her, raised her voice to help combat these injustices at jazz clubs in Johannesburg; in exile, at a rally beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and before the United Nations. Set defiantly in the present tense, this biography offers readers an intimate view of Makeba’s fight for equality. Kathryn Erskine’s call-and-response style text and Charly Palmer’s bold illustrations come together in a raw, riveting duet of protest song and praise poem. A testament to how a single voice helped to shake up the world―and can continue to do so.

  • Nelson Mandela - One day when Nelson Mandela was nine years old, his father died and he was sent from his village to a school far away from home, to another part of South Africa. In Johannesburg, the country’s capital, Mandela saw fellow Africans who were poor and powerless. He decided then that he would work to protect them. When the government began to keep people apart based on the color of their skin, Mandela spoke out against the law and vowed to fight hard in order to make his country a place that belonged to all South Africans. Kadir Nelson tells the story of Mandela, a global icon, in poignant verse and glorious illustrations. It is the story of a young boy’s determination to change South Africa and of the struggles of a man who eventually became the president of his country by believing in equality for people of all colors. Readers will be inspired by Mandela’s triumph and his lifelong quest to create a more just world.

  • The White Giraffe - After a fire kills her parents, eleven-year-old Martine must leave England to live with her grandmother on a wildlife game reserve in South Africa, where she befriends a mythical white giraffe.

  • The Soccer Fence - As a boy, Hector loved playing soccer in his small Johannesburg township. He dreamed of playing on a real pitch with the boys from another part of the city, but apartheid made that impossible. Then, in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and apartheid began to crumble. The march toward freedom in South Africa was a slow one, but when the beloved Bafana Bafana national soccer team won the African Cup of Nations, Hector realized that dreams once impossible could now come true.

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Small Mercies
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12
"Set in post-apartheid Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, this realistic story traces protagonist Mercy's quest to speak up for truth and, consequently, for herself. [...] Sensitive, funny, and tender." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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Pocket Bios: Nelson Mandela
Written & illustrated by Al Berenger
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

A colorfully illustrated, pocket-size picture book biography of activist, philanthropist, and South African President Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was a South African revolutionary, activist, politician, and philanthropist who opposed apartheid and served as the president of South Africa as the country’s first black head of state and the first representative elected democratically. He devoted much of his time in office to dismantling apartheid law and battling institutionalized racism in South Africa. He is the recipient of more than 250 honors worldwide, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Pocket Bios are full of personality, introducing readers to fascinating figures from history with simple storytelling and cheerful illustrations. Titles include men and women from history, exploration, the sciences, the arts, the ancient world, and more.

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