Yaba Badoe’s middle grade debut is a captivating tale that stretches from the UK to Africa and the Caribbean, dancing a winding trail to the roots and heritage of main character Man-man and his sister Pan.
The story opens in present day London where Man-man is practicing his best dance moves for the Notting Hill Carnival, but his joy is overshadowed by the mysterious sickness that is making his mother fade into a shadow of her former self.
So when Man-man makes a plea from the heart to the magnificent Queen of Revels, begging her to make his mother well again, Pan, Man-man and friend Kareem are snatched from their Carnival float and whisked away to a magical in-between place full of the vibrant colours and nature of West Africa.
Here, they see for themselves what they have learned at school. Slavers trading in human flesh, stealing them from their homes and families, forcing them to walk three times around the Tree of Forgetfulness to cut ties with their roots, to make them docile and pliant.
But the Tree of Forgetfulness is also the Tree of Memories, able to recall not only the anguish it has witnessed, but the joy of family and freedom in the before times.
And one unstoppable woman, a woman so like those in Man-man’s own family, uses the power of her voice to speak out against the slavers; a voice that carries to the future, a voice that Man-man’s mother desperately needs to hear.
This story is alive with myth and magic, and it introduces the history of slavery in a way that is appropriate to middle grade readers. Yaba’s storytelling is rich and vibrant, full of rhythm and movement, and
The bright, bold palette of Africa’s vivacious warmth is a striking contrast to the suffering underlying this canvas of “happy” colours, yet Joelle Avelino’s emotive artwork manages to make these two aspects coexist.
A truly powerful story which I hope will be widely read!
There’s more to come on the Man-man tour so be sure to follow below!