The Old African
The Old African
Dial Books, Hardcover, 9780803725645, 79pp.
Publication Date: September 8, 2005
Based on legend and infused with magical realism, this haunting tale is beautiful in both its language and its images. Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney have found a new, extraordinary way to express the horrors of slavery and the hope and strength that managed to overcome its grip.
"Whips sink into bare flesh and red blood glistens in Lester’s painfully vivid, four-part story of the horrors of slavery that evolves into a fantastical escape myth. When a runaway boy named Paul is brutally beaten by Master Riley, his anguish triggers a flashback of the magical, shape-shifting Old African to the terror and stench of the slave ships he experienced ten years previous. Paul’s vision inspired cry “Water! Water!” stirs the Old African to lead the slaves off the plantation to the ocean, the Water-That-Stretched- Forever. Fully clothed, the slaves walk into the waves to their freedom, down onto the ocean floor, over the bones of fellow captured slaves, all the way back to Africa where their homecoming is joyful and triumphant. Both author and artist draw on a story originating with the Ybo slaves of coastal Georgia for this moving collaboration. Lester’s prose is powerful and poetic, and Pinkney outdoes himself in hauntingly expressive, often wordless double-page paintings that masterfully capture the strength and suffering of the African people."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Lester’s story is based on a legend about Ybo Landing, GA, where a group of slaves walked into the water, saying they were walking to Africa. His resulting novella-length allegory about spirit, memory, and freedom shows how hope can live in a people even when the spirit dies... Lester and Pinkney combine their talents here to create an unusual, complex, and thought-provoking offering in which the Old African is the keeper of a power that brings comfort and, ultimately, salvation to his people."
-School Library Journal, starred review