Part of a series for older elementary and young middle school students, this detailed work presents life in ancient Mali through the eyes of a young girl.
“If you were me and lived at the height of the Mali (Mah-lee) Empire, you would have been born in the year 1332.” The “me” referred to in this comprehensive history tale for tweens is a 10-year-old girl living in Mali’s capital city as it may have looked hundreds of years ago. Packed with facts about the West African kingdom and its long reign as a world power, this softcover picture book is part of Roman’s (Can a Princess Be a Firefighter?, 2017, etc.) diverse history series with titles covering such places as ancient China, the Mayan Empire, and ancient Greece. (The author’s nonfiction works also include her extensive If You Were Me and Lived in… series introducing children to cultures around the world.) As with her previous volumes, Roman hangs substantial educational content on a mild storytelling framework, giving young people a personalized way into the subject through a relatable “you are there” device. Readers learn about Mali’s desert geography, housing, clothing, weaponry, farmers and artisans, religious practices, education (boys were schooled; girls stayed home), governance (and brutal law enforcement), food (“grilled fish caught fresh from the Niger River…the fruit of the baobab tree”), and prominence as a major trade route for the export of salt and gold and the import of silk and slaves. (Here, Roman’s reference to slavery, which still exists in that region, is a shade too matter-of-fact: “It was sad, but slaves were considered a valuable commodity rather than people.”) Arkova’s (Can a Princess Be a Firefighter?, 2017, etc.) well-researched images mostly occupy two-thirds of each double-page spread and are rendered in a soft, warm palette inspired by Mali’s river and desert environs. Also included: pronunciation guides, a glossary, and a list of individuals—a king, an architect, a scholar, and prominent wives, among them—who were significant in shaping Mali’s history.
An informative addition to the prolific author’s well-crafted series of illustrated books that make history relatable to a tween audience.