In this fictionalized story of community organizing and uplift, nonwhite South African families band together to make their community school a place where students feel safe, cared for, and encouraged to awaken their dreams.
Salmina Arends is a black girl and sixth-grader at the imagined Manyano School. (“Manyano” is a Xhosa word meaning “coming together, or unity.”) The school is consistently under siege by skollies, an Afrikaans word for vandals or gang members, and litter is everywhere. When a new principal is able to leverage new computers for the school and they are subsequently stolen, he recognizes something must change. He calls for the community to take ownership of the school, and many of the otherwise unemployed family members begin an industrious schoolyard brick-making project that turns around the culture of the school and reaches into the soul of the community it serves. The afterlife of the apartheid regime in South Africa lingers in the story, but many of the book’s insights into post-apartheid South Africa live between the lines. In the afterword readers learn of the real-life school the episode is based on—and of the unfulfilled promise of universal education. This is crucially missing from the feel-good primary narrative, as is a direct confrontation of the causes of South Africa’s ills.
Written to express the power of claiming an ownership of one’s education and the bonds of community, the narrative fails to live up to what it teaches by reducing and erasing when more hard work and commitment were needed. (glossary, maps, bio of Nelson Mandela) (Fiction. 9-12)