Until I was an adult, I had not heard of Africa’s history and the historical leaders of the entire continent. Other than the Egyptian’s creation of the pyramid and the history of the Nile’s flooding, I don’t remember entering the continent during my years in my 1980s public schools. Beginning in college, I have worked to rectify that omission. I was delighted to discover the Curiosity Chronicles curriculum for my homeschool kids, which does a nice job of approaching the entire world as we learn about history.
African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, 2021) puts African historical figures and significant African traditions and events into a highly approachable middle-grade nonfiction volume. The 5-to-10-page biographies show the unique lives and missions of ten figures, as well as their long-lasting impact on their region, the continent, and, in some cases, the world. These are the people discussed in individual chapters in chronological order: Menes, Merneith, Imhotep, Aesop, Hannibal Barca, Terence, Amanirenas, Tin Hinan, Mansa Musa, and Queen Idia. I had only been familiar with half of them.
Biographies are not the only part of the book. Interspersed between the biographies are side sections about various events, discoveries, and changes in the continent that have changed the history of Africa, starting with the changing winds of the Sahara, and leading toward the lost cultures as a result of the slave trade. I really enjoyed receiving such a context for the continent, and while I mourn the loss of the history from these oral traditions, I do rejoice that middle-grade readers can now learn them with such an accessible volume!
I’d especially recommend this book to accompany a world history curriculum, especially those that neglect the entire continent, for the most part. (I’m looking at you, Story of the World!) There is no excuse today to not learn about Africa’s diverse and creative past.