Stanley, Diane and
Peter Vennema. 1988. SHAKA: KING OF THE
ZULUS. New York: Morrow Publishing Company.
Shaka: King of
the Zulus is a biography of the powerful nineteenth-century Zulu chief, Shaka. The book describes how Shaka was born in 1787 and grew up without his natural father. He and his mother were banished from their original land and forced to settle elsewhere. Eventually, Shaka trained himself to be a warrior and became the leader of the Zulu
This book is categorized as historical fiction, written in a story-like format. By introducing the history of the African tribe leader in a story, the authors attract young readers to
learn about historical figures.
The harsh spirit
of the time, during the 1800’s is depicted throughout the book. The authors
even write, “Shaka lived in a different age, when nations all over the world went to war to build great empires, believing
it was honorable.” Including these type of sentences, gives the reader more insight on how we should perceive such information
that we read, allowing us to differentiate between what is and what is not accepted in our society and culture.
This adds understanding to the reading – explaining why Shaka’s attitude and life revolved around
fighting and killing. Not only does this explain Shaka but it also reveals the
history of the African culture.
The writing style
of the authors, gives more details of Shaka – rather than dwelling on the historical aspects of why the tribes resorted
to fighting and how tribes were formed. The book includes a pronunciation guide
in the beginning of the story.
The guide helps to add definition to the story that follows. Readers,
especially young readers, may be intimidated or intrigued when reading new words that they are unfamiliar with. It allows the reader to flip back and forth, getting familiar with the African terms and names –
which lead to a better understanding of the story.
Each page of text
is accompanied by a colorful illustration. The pictures work to help tell the
story of Shaka’s life. They show emotions through the facial expressions
and add meaning to the characters. A good example is the illustration of Zulu
holding his mother as she is dying. You can see the pain and emotional distress
on the faces of the tribesmen and Zulu himself.
The illustrations connect the reader to the story and allow the reader to fully comprehend the feelings of Zulu
and why he reacted the way he did after his mother died. The clothes, weapons,
animals, and living huts are easily defined through the illustrations.
Although the book
has much to teach about Shaka’s life and the history of African tribes and culture, there are important lessons taught
as well. Stanley’s book could be used in the classroom or at home, to discuss
the importance of family values, determination, self-esteem, grieving over a death of a loved one, honoring and respecting
our neighbors, and many more.
Each page could be a stopping point, when
reading aloud, to discuss the historical and life lessons found throughout the book, Shaka: King of the Zulus.