A book with richly textured illustrations and text, “Never Forgotten” tells a story mostly absent from the history of the African slave trade – the story of the people who were left behind.  The imaginative and lyrical language of Patricia McKissack combines with the evocative and compelling images by Leo and Diane Dillon to create a story that assumes mythic depth.

The tale opens with the blacksmith Dinga choosing to raise his newborn son (whose mother died in childbirth) on his own, without remarrying.  Yet he doesn’t quite raise the boy, whom he names Musafa, alone – he has the assistance of the four “Mother Elements” of earth, fire, wind, and water.

Each of these elements is crucial to Dinga’s profession as a blacksmith, and each provides her unique brand of mothering to young Musafa.  He grows older and learns the skills of the blacksmith at his father’s side.

One fatal day, when Musafa does not return home from an errand, Dinga seeks help from the elements to learn what has happened to his son.  Each element traces a part of Musafa’s journey into slavery, and each returns to share the story with Dinga.  When Dinga eventually learns his son is not only alive, but also working as a blacksmith, he rejoices, much to the confusion of his fellow villagers.

This book would provide an interesting beginning to a unit on slavery in the United States or on the U.S. Civil War.  As McKissack points out in her “Author’s Note,” this story has not really been told for children.  This book rectifies that omission.

Cross-Posted at Camp Read-A-Lot