Friday, March 31, 2017

PPBF: Never Forgotten

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Never Forgotten, a new folktale about slavery, hope, and courage
Never Forgotten

Written by Patricia McKissack
Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

Schwartz & Wade, 2011
Random House Children's Books
Kindergarten and up
48pp, 3100 words, 710L

Folk Tale, Culture, Poetry

The drums speak
A single message—a warning:
Of pale men riding in large seabirds
With great white wings.
Of men with the blue of the sky in their eyes,
Who steal upriver
Through the Great Forest mists
And into the Savannah Lands in search of slaves—
Hear the moans and groans of their captives—
Hundreds, thousands stolen.
We rarely speak of the Taken,
But I will, just once,
Because you asked.

Told in 21 non-rhyming poems, this imagined tale of an African father communicates the pain and longing which must be felt by a parent whose child has been taken from them. The story follows Mufasa, a boy born in West Africa, the eighth in a line of skilled blacksmiths. Mufasa loves his savannah home, but one day he disappears. Back in the village, his father consults with the spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind. Each in their turn tries to rescue or find the kidnapped boy, but they are powerless to free him from the slavers. In the end, the father receives some consolation, and the glimpses we see of Mufasa show him to be courageous and enterprising, shaping his own destiny as best he can, with the indomitable spirit of a lion.

What I Love:

An interior illustration of
the slave market, by Leo and Diane Dillon
The beauty of this book makes me shiver. The author's note explains how McKissack began researching slavery in the Caribbean and how she crafted a creation tale out of the pieces she unearthed. But her story goes much deeper than a folk tale. She mines the depth of human emotion
and creates layers of story, a cautionary tale to never forget the cruelties of the past. The story seed was a comment she heard in Barbados, that hurricanes are mother Africa searching for her children. She has chosen to tell the story in poetry, harkening back to the oral traditions of Mali, where the Griots kept their people's history intact through storytelling. The words are achingly well-chosen. The text is spare. McKissack makes three thousand words feel like five hundred.

Leo and Diane Dillon have painted decades of stunning artwork. The illustrations for this picture storybook are no exception. The stained glass effect of the watercolors and acrylics is a fitting accompaniment to the poems. The jewel-tones are like sun reflecting off the ocean. Like the rich fabrics of West Africa. Like the vibrancy of the Caribbean Islands. All together, this book is powerful, and lovely, and sad: one that should be read and loved by families everywhere.


1. The International Slavery Museum sheds more light on the stories behind the slave trade in the Carribean. You can also find more at the National Archives.

KiinderArt has instructions for teaching a kente fabric craft.
2. For further reading on slavery in early America, explore the PBS and American Abolitionist websites.

3. Did you know the rich legacy African-American blacksmiths have left to America? Start your search with the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative or the National Park Service. Trace the roots further back to the West African blacksmiths on The Metropolitan Museum of Art's website.

4. African storytelling techniques made their way to the islands. Read about Caribbean folklore history from Stabroek News. You'll find familiar folktale characters on RealJamaica and read about living storytellers who are carrying on the tradition at CaribbeanBeat.

5. TeacherVision has compiled lesson plans for teaching African folktales. Use the sample stories from the AnikeFoundation or some of those found on VictoriaFalllsGuide.

6. Brown Bookshelf has posted an enlightening and encouraging interview with the author. And you'll find a powerful interview with the illustrators on Kirkus.

7. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library. 

Reviewed by Clara
Reviewed by Joanna

Reviewed by Susanna
Reviewed by Joanne

Reviewed by Lindsey
Reviewed by Joy via Jilanne

Reviewed by Kirsten
Reviewed by Beth

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, March 31, 2017 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.


  1. This is a book that should never be hurried. Great choice.

  2. Excellent review. You gave readers a very strong sense of the depth of this PB. Beautiful illustrations! They do look like stained glass windows. Magnificent offering today!

  3. What beautiful illustrations. I have it on reserve at my library. Thanks for featuring this one, I had not seen it before.

    1. I was surprised I hadn't heard of it either. Thanks.

  4. This sounds powerful and moving. Fantastic illustrations!

    1. Are you familiar with the Dillons' artwork? They have been prolific and have produced a stirring body of work.

  5. Such a topic for a picture book. But sounds like it was handled well. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. This book sounds so moving & a perfect choice as we head into Poetry month. I very much look forward to reading this. And thank you for sharing the many activities.

    1. I had forgotten about poetry month. Thanks for the reminder.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.