First Names: Nelson Mandela

Written by Nansubuga N. Isdahl, illustrations by Nicole mills, Published by David Fickling Books

The First Names series of books aims to introduce children to famous people from history, and helps readers get to know them on a first name basis. This blog tour celebrates recently published Nelson, all about Nelson Mandela. There are 4 books in this series with a further two publishing in 2021. I am thrilled to host author Nansubuga N Isdahl on my blog this morning!

First, thanks for having me.

Storytelling is as much about what you leave out as it is about what you leave in. Much of written history has excluded certain stories almost by default. This aspect of storytelling was quite important to me as I outlined the narrative and decided what to include. I think because Nelson Mandela is such an important historical figure, and particularly so for Africans, I thought it was important to include those facts and stories that illuminated how he developed his leadership style – both the missteps and the achievements. He had a rare grace and a highly developed sense of fairness, in my opinion, especially for a politician/freedom fighter. I thought it important to include those stories that allowed the reader to see how these character traits developed over time. As a result, I think a lot of the things I ended up leaving out revolved around his personal and family life.

Drawing from even earlier in his life, I also thought it was important to include those aspects from Nelson’s childhood that were foundational to his own sense of manhood. There was one instance where he underwent a traditional ceremony from his ethnic group that would be considered “sensitive” in a Western context. There was some discussion about removing it, but I felt quite certain that it should be included given the weight Nelson himself placed on the ritual and given how much he revered his cultural upbringing.

I also thought Nelson Mandela’s story could serve as a lesson in equality and leadership within our current context. With this in mind, I also wanted to highlight those aspects that were related to how he forged his own beliefs about equality and freedom in response to the apartheid struggle. Conversations around equality and social justice are very relevant today and I was acutely aware of the possibility that this book could shine a light on these issues in a way that might be compelling for children – especially because of all the drama (fast getaways, disguises, etc.)!

Ultimately, it was a question of thinking about what Nelson Mandela’s story had to offer children and the world – both the good and the hard lessons – and then working backwards from there to include the most memorable, significant, compelling, and interesting bits.

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