nelson mandelaI’ve been a fan of Kadir Nelson’s illustrations for years without realizing it.  Nelson is an illustrator and writer who has created some of the most beautiful and powerful books of the past fifteen years. Primarily focusing on African-American history and heroes, Nelson has proven to be adept at writing and illustrating books about challenging subjects gracefully and with age-appropriate illustrations and language. He illustrated the Caldecott Honor books Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, as well as books by Spike Lee, Will Smith, Nikki Grimes, Sharon Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s daughter) and Michael Jordan.

With the release of Nelson’s newest picture book, Nelson Mandela, I took another look at his 2008 release We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.  Both books are written and illustrated by Nelson and feature his signature resplendent paintings.   We are the Ship tells the story of baseball’s segregation from the start of the Negro League baseball in the 1920s, until Jackie Robinson crossed over into the majors in 1947.  This non-fiction book is told in 9 chapters (labeled as innings) and reads as a collective voice.  The writing is inspiring without being overly sentimental and smart while still being accessible.

we are the shipNelson Mandela is a much shorter work, but no less compelling.  The prose is fluid and poetic, and there are few stories more powerful than Mandela’s.  Nelson made some stylistic decisions that really make this picture book stand out.  The front cover of the book is a striking painting of Mandela’s face (above), with all of the book’s text on the back cover.  Light is used prominently throughout the book, from the cover shot of Mandela’s face bathed in light with a black background to the use of a rising sun as the story tells of Mandela’s birth to the absence of light while Mandela was in prison.  This use of literal light to convey the figurative impact Mandela has made on so many people helps give visual cues to readers, while the text does a remarkable job filling in the rest of the story for young readers.  You can find more books written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson at the Davenport Public Library!

May 11

Daybreakers – Willem Defoe, Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill

In the year 2019, an unknown plague has transformed the world’s population into vampires. As the human population nears extinction, so does the blood supply. Now the vampires must find a blood substitute before time runs out. Researcher Edward Dalton and a clandestine group of vampires have made a remarkable discovery, one which has the power to save the human race.

May 18

Extraordinary Measures – Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser

On the fast track and ready to taste the success of corporate America, John Crowley walks away from it all in hopes of finding a cure for two of his fatally ill children. With his wife Aileen by his side, he teams up with brilliant but unconventional scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill, and together they form a company to develop a life-saving drug. But just when it appears that a solution may be found, the relationship between the men is tested and the fate of John’s children is at stake.

Invictus – Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

Nominated for two Oscars

Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.