We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2020 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.
Hector: A Boy, A Protest, And The Photograph That Changed Apartheid (Amazon | Book Depository)
Written and Illustrated by Adrienne Wright
Published by Page Street Kids (2019)
ISBN: 1624146910 (ISBN13: 9781624146916). Literary Award: Children’s Africana Book Award (2019). Bought a copy. Book photos taken by me.
While I am vaguely aware of the South African apartheid, and have read quite a few works about and by Nelson Mandela, I did not realize that there were astounding award-winning non-fiction picturebooks that deal with this theme in such a compelling and visually-arresting manner. I have been going through the award-winning list of Children’s Africana Book Award from 2010 until the present time, which brought me to Adrienne Wright’s debut picturebook here.
Told in multiple POVs, the first part focused primarily on Hector and the simplicity of his existence as a 12 year old boy who loved playing soccer or watching Bruce Lee movies with his friends during the weekends, and doing chores around his home for his mother or sometimes their neighbors for some change. Hector’s routines were established in the first few pages, and his warm and kind disposition made evident through his interactions with family members and friends. Even when he was nearly robbed by some thugs in their small town, he was depicted to be alert, quick on his feet, and did his best to not worry his mother.
The narrative took a turn when it was shown how the students from Hector’s school came out, one day, to protest the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, as mandated by their government. Afrikaans, apparently, was a language derived from the Dutch settlers in South Africa who colonized the country between the 1600s and 1800s. The contextual background to this is provided at the start of the story:
Black students were required to learn half their subjects in Afrikaans. Until then, they were taught in English, which students preferred, because it was seen as an international language. Lessons in Afrikaans added hardship to students and teachers in an already oppressive education system. Black township students described Afrikaans as ‘the language of the oppressor.’
What was meant to be a peaceful protest turned out to be a bloody one. Wright’s cinematic type of storytelling became evident as she stops the narrative arc at significant points with her shifts in perspective, examining what was going on from Hector’s sister, Antoinette’s eyes – then later on from the photojournalist, Sam Nzima’s point of view. Wright’s eye for detail, gradual build-up, multiple POVs all serve to increase the tension and the suspense. This is a real life story that does not have a happy ending – stories depicting the apartheid never really do. Yet, I sensed how respectful she was in her storytelling in her efforts to accurately represent the events as they unfold.
This is a book that needs to find its way into multicultural bookshelves in classrooms around the world. The only way for us to prevent similar needless deaths from occurring is if we are aware and educated about the things that are happening around us, outside of our own safe little bubbles.