Born in Mendeland, known today as Sierra Leone, 9-year-old Margu enjoys the lush green of her homeland until drought causes her to be pawned for rice and later forced into slavery. Monica Edinger’s illustrated tale of historical fiction, told in a longer picture book format, follows the girl’s fears as she makes the seven-week voyage across the Atlantic aboard the Spanish slave ship, the Amistad. Although most children’s literature about the Middle Passage focuses on the hopelessness of entering a life of slavery, this narration describes Margu’s unusual situation.
While aboard the Amistad, a slave named Cinque picks the chain locks and leads a mutiny that results in the murder of most of the ship’s crew. When the ship is finally captured and the slaves are taken to New Haven, Connecticut, Margu and three other children live with the jailer’s family as the trial against Cinque and his fellow slaves goes all the way to the Supreme Court and drags out over several years. Accompanied by archival reproductions, news accounts of the time period and Byrd’s colorful and detailed artwork, Margu’s story relates her curiosity about the strange smells, sounds, clothing, animals and buildings she encounters, as well as her unyielding dream to return to Africa.
When the Supreme Court deems Margu and the Amistad passengers free, her dream becomes a reality and her return trip, with a pleasant cabin, plenty of food and walks along deck, is completely different than her initial voyage. For readers wondering about the real Margu, Edinger offers more information in a concluding author’s note. Finding beauty amid tragedy, Africa Is My Home offers middle grade readers a remarkable glimpse of this overlooked yet significant moment in American history.