What began with Walter Dean Myers's curiosity over some letters listed for sale resulted in At Her Majesty's Request (ages 9 and up), the tale of a young African princess saved from certain death and raised under the direction of Queen Victoria herself. Myers's account begins in Africa, where the Dohoman tribe has overpowered an Egbado village, saving only those villagers fit to be sold as slaves or used as sacrifices. A five-year-old girl, the daughter of the village chief, is saved for use in a brutal ritual. Two years later, on the day she was to die, Frederick Forbes, the young commander of the British ship Bonetta, convinces the Dohoman king to spare her life. Soon this young child, marked as a princess by tribal facial scars she would carry throughout her life, is on a ship headed toward England to be presented as a gift to an English queen.
Intrigued by the young girl's ability to learn English while on board the Bonetta and deeply moved by her story, Queen Victoria assumes financial responsibility for her care and agrees to let Sarah Forbes Bonetta (as she became known during the voyage) be raised by Commander Forbes and his family. This arrangement soon changes as the Queen decides Sarah, suffering from a series of ailments, should be sent to a healthier climate Africa. Sarah's extended stay in Sierra Leone ends when, at the Queen's request, she is sent back to England. Queen Victoria's personal involvement in decisions affecting Sarah continues throughout Sarah's formative years, adulthood, and marriage. Meticulous use of manuscripts, photographs, diaries, and letters, including the letters that initially aroused Myers's curiosity, not only gives intellectual validation to this sometimes unbelievable story, but also gives nonfiction a personal face the beautiful, regal face of Sarah Forbes Bonetta. At Her Majesty's Request is a refreshing option for older children to read both inside and outside of the classroom.
Jamie Whitfield is an author and middle school teacher. She lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee.