Nelson Mandela

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Nelson Mandela Book Poster Image
Stellar art portrays key aspects of Mandela's life for kids.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Hits the high and low points for Nelson Mandela's amazing life. Introduces kids to the reality of apartheid in South Africa. A two-page author's note at the back gives a more detailed capsule of Mandela's life, including fun facts such as that he was the youngest in a family of four boys and nine girls, and a moving quote from Mandela about freedom. 

Positive Messages

Stand up for what you believe in. Defend those who can't defend themselves. Use your intelligence to serve others and your ideals. Never give up hope. Work with others to fight for justice. In a quote in the author's note at the back, Mandela says, "We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nelson Mandela decided to go to law school to defend "those who could not defend themselves." He never gave up hope, even when imprisoned unjustly for 27 years. Once free, Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, leading his people through a major political and societal transition. 

Violence & Scariness

Shows boys in silhouette fighting with sticks. 


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nelson Mandela is a kid-friendly biographical picture book that hits the turning points of the former South African president's life, from barefoot village kid to activist lawyer and anti-apartheid activist to prisoner for 27 long years, eventual freedom, and amazing rise to the presidency. Award-winning author-illustrator Nelson Kadir brings the same kind of dynamism and narrative power to his stunning oil paintings that he brought to I Have a Dream and Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Simple text combined with evocative paintings -- many with close-up views of emotive faces -- help kids see the how one individual was driven, against all odds, to bring justice, equality, and peace to his country. 

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What's the story?

NELSON MANDELA traces the life of the former South African president from his poor village childhood through his education, struggle for racial equality under apartheid rule, his 27-year imprisonment, and eventual freedom and presidency of the country.


Is it any good?

Dynamic art and simple text combine to convey the heroic nature of Mandela's life in ways even a young kid can understand. Author-illustrator Nelson Kadir's beautifully rendered moments in the great leader's life underscore the power of an individual to change the world, starting with the place where he lives, despite great odds and many years without success. An inspirational book about one of the world's most inspirational leaders.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what apartheid meant in South Africa. How was it different from or similar to segregation in the pre-Civil Rights United States? 

  • Does Nelson Kadir's painting of a whites-only beach look like any historical photos of the American South that you've seen?

  • What other heroes of social justice have you read books or seen movies about? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

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