Campfire Biography Series
written by Lewis Helfand
illustrated by Lalit Sharma
Building on a mission statement that expresses a desire “to entertain and educate young minds,” Campfire’s nicely executed Biography Series captures two very important figures of the 20th century, two very different black men who managed to lead and inspire through their courage.
The stark black-and-white drawings of Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul are particularly effective, effusively drawing out the story of a heroic man in a country most American kids will have little knowledge of, having been born after the end of apartheid there. The book bursts into beautiful color when the story reaches May 10, 1994, the day Mandela was sworn in as president of South Africa and we hear his landmark words: “The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.”
It takes much strength and courage on Mandela’s part to reach that day, however, and the book doesn’t shy away from detailing his long struggle. Beginning with Mandela’s birth in 1918 and documenting both his and his country’s difficult passages through the 20th century, the book is solidly crafted and far more nuanced and detailed than one might expect a typical children’s biographical comic book to be. That it exceeds these expectations is a welcome surprise.
The same writer, Lewis Helfand, also crafts Muhammad Ali: The King of the Ring, the story of how Cassius Clay became a three-time World Heavyweight Champion. Stories long associated with the boxing legend (his conversion to Islam, his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, his legendary rhymes) are told here, as well as less-known snippets. They all build into a nicely formed telling of a man whose athletic prowess captured the world’s attention.
With these two books, Campfire manages to capture children’s attention in stories that talk up, rather than down, to their readers. They also include helpful end materials (the Ali book even includes a “making of” section that many young readers will find fun to read) that further flesh out the lives of the subjects and the world in which they lived.