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The Old African

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  68 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
No one on the plantation had ever heard the Old African’s voice, yet he had spoken to all of them in their minds. For the Old African had the power to see the color of a person’s soul and read his thoughts as if they were words on a page. Now it was time to act—time to lead his fellow slaves to the Water-That-Stretched-Forever, and from there back to Africa. Back to their ...more
Hardcover, 80 pages
Published September 8th 2005 by Dial Books
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(showing 1-30)
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James Govednik
Sep 22, 2009 James Govednik rated it really liked it
Shelves: multicultural
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lauran Ferguson
Sep 17, 2013 Lauran Ferguson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ch-02-ncss
I can't even explain how compelling this book is. I knew it was going to have a powerful story, but I didn't expect that much in a children's book. I think it was incredible! The illustrations were also incredible. Each one was its own piece of valuable artwork. This would definitely be a book for an older child, but I recommend it over and over again.
Jul 22, 2008 Marci rated it really liked it
A beautiful picture book that is not for young children. Its story is stark and vivid in its depiction of slavery, with all its horrors. Nonetheless, this is a very worthy read. I was not as impressed with Jerry Pinkney's illustrations as I have been in the past. I'm not sure why. I'm including the book review from Booklist. It mirrors my own thoughts.


Gr. 4-7. From his 1968 Newbery Honor Book, To Be a Slave (1968), to Day of Tears (2005), Lester has brought the African American slavery e
The Old African by Julius Lester was a Noble Books for Global Society Award winner for the year 2006. This book sums up the history of pain and hardships African Americans slaves faced during the time of slavery. The Old African was captured and forced to become a slave but what nobody knew was he had a special power that allowed him to escape with the other slaves and lead them to freedom everyone knew of him through his kind gestures but never through his words because he never spoke. This sto ...more
Jessica Lee
Dec 06, 2015 Jessica Lee rated it it was amazing
The Old African by Julius Lester was a winner of this award in 2006 (2006). This story tells us of what the African American people faced as slaves throughout entire lifetimes. We learn The Old African’s story of when he was captured and taken into slavery and what his life had consisted of since then, and the Old African has powers that allow him to escape with the other slaves under the control of the evil Mr. Riley, and not only that but on their travels home through the ocean, all those who ...more
The Old African is a beautifully written, albeit difficult retelling of an old legend about an older African slave who has magical capabilities. The Old African is old enough that he has memories of the motherland he and the other slaves were stolen from. There is a very heart wrenching and difficult part where a young slave is being whipped in front of many of the other slaves, including The Old African, who is able to mysteriously and magically reach the young slave and comfort him, effectivel ...more
Christina Packard
Nov 16, 2016 Christina Packard rated it liked it
Shelves: georgia
This is a beautifully illustrated book. My library discarded this book, and I picked it up. I wish that at the beginning of the book the author told why he wrote his story. It was from a tale in Georgia that supposedly a group of slaves made it to the great water and then continued and walked on back to Africa. This tale even has a spot in Georgia where it happened. I knew nothing of this and just started reading and it was a tale of Africans being taken across the water and kept and treated bad ...more
Dec 01, 2013 Nyna rated it it was amazing
The Old African is such a crazy story, that it is appealing in a totally non-historical way. On one hand, it is a retelling of Moses, and on the other, it is a mysterious magical entity all its own. The words themselves aren’t particularly special, but the peculiarities of the old man draw in the reader all the same. The pictures themselves aren’t especially fantastic either. They are very unfinished images; though you can tell exactly what they are supposed to be. That makes it difficult to say ...more
Jackie Pino
The Old African opens with an all too common scene in early America—a white plantation owner is whipping a slave boy. What the master does not know is that the slave known as the Old African is pulling the pain away from the boy. Eventually, the whipped boy reveals to the Old African that he had seen the ocean when he ran away. This sets in motion a series of events that frees all of the slaves from the plantation.
A mixture of historical fiction and fantasy, this book provides insight about wha
Feb 26, 2016 Jack rated it it was amazing
The Old African by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney is my favorite Julius Lester book. The legend is awesomely retold and built upon by Lester. Pinkney's illustrations visually and emotionally expand the text allowing us to be drawn in further, opening us to the pain and beauty of The Old African .

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool - 3
Lexile Measure: 920L
Apr 24, 2012 Ariel rated it liked it
Although the book does a good job of introducing readers to what slaves had to go through in history, I do not feel like this book would be a good choice for younger classrooms. Some of the younger students might have a hard time with the illustrations that depicts the violence (like the one on pg. 6 that shows the slave tied to a whipping pole). The language and text of this book is also geared towards more advanced readers. Older readers would be able to understand get sucked into the storylin ...more
Ms. Wayne
From the Publisher

No one on the plantation had ever heard the Old African's voice, yet he had spoken to all of them in their minds. For the Old African had the power to see the color of a person's soul and read his thoughts as if they were words on a page. Now it was time to act -- time to lead his fellow slaves to the Water-That-Stretched-Forever, and from there back to Africa. Back to their home.

Based on legend and infused with magical realism, this haunting tale is beautiful in both its langu
Jennifer Porter
Dec 02, 2015 Jennifer Porter rated it really liked it
Shelves: notable-books
This story is able to demonstrate to readers how horribly the slaves were treated and gives the readers a real sense as to how it was for them in the days of slavery, which, unfortunately, was not so long ago. This is very important for young children to know and understand, because the best way to keep terrible historical events from repeating themselves is to have a wide understanding of them, how they happened, and how bad it was for those it was happening to. While the story is unfortunate i ...more
Alexis Collins
Nov 03, 2011 Alexis Collins rated it it was ok
This was a captivating read. IT took the vision of one African man and engaged him within his surroundings. The people of plantation knew of him through his actions and gestures, but never through his words. Until one day he had to lead them to freedom. The pictures tell, for me, almost more of story. You can see the caution and anguish that came forth on the salves facial gestures as they were trying to get to freedom. Old Man Riley was horrid and I would never want to meet him. I can also tell ...more
Oct 22, 2009 Taya rated it liked it
Shelves: pbgs-4
I thought that this book was beautifully done, both in regards to the language and the illustrations. My only concern was whether or not I would feel comfortable having elementary students read this. In terms of content, it brings up some very harsh, and very real truths about slavery that I am not sure younger students would be ready to handle. I think for a middle school classroom this may be more appropriate. This fact is probably also what makes this book so powerful, I am actually surprised ...more
Nov 22, 2013 KaSandra rated it liked it
I loved the entire book from cover to the cover...the artistry is simply amazing throughout; it's as if the struggle was foretold twice for me while reading this beautiful illustration of fables and facts. This is definitely one book to discuss with the family...there's the African American Slave Trade, Spirituality, Allah, a different god of the trappers, love, telepathic healing powers, etc...yes many things to expound upon...
May 22, 2013 Kate rated it it was amazing
From the incredibly rich creative partnership of Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney, this tale of hope triumphing over evil is a high point. Its setting is the American slave experience but its message is universal: "I endure. Be still and silent. Do not rage. Do not weep. Do not wish for anything. Be and endure." Both the language and the illustrations are thrillingly, heartbreakingly evocative. A masterpiece.
Nov 12, 2012 Sarah added it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Will try this one again. It's serious, harsh, and also beautiful. I'd like to see it through. Maybe in a couple months, or maybe years we'll give it another go. It looks deceptively like a children's book, but despite all the illustrations, it is not, in fact, for children unless one is quite prepared to explain things like rape and racial slurs. I generally am, but this one is right at the margin of what I can manage.
Karen Chandler
Jun 24, 2010 Karen Chandler rated it really liked it
This is an interesting version of the Ibo legend about enslaved Africans' travel across the ocean to return home. I liked some elements of the story a great deal, including the representation of the protagonist's sensitivity to nature. This and the Old African's cultural integrity distinguishes him other slaves, who are going through the motions to varying extents. The only white character, Master Riley, is cowardly and masks his insecurities with cruelty toward others.
Erin Sterling
A beautiful but sorrowful and intense book about slavery and the myth/tale of one man who remembers the village in Africa and the trip on the slave ship and has the ability to remove the pain of others. Hard for me to figure out the age-appropriateness--there are gorgeous full-size illustrations that gives the feel of a picture book but the writing is intense and disturbing because of the horrible-ness of the time. Really worthwhile book.
Jul 26, 2008 Kimberly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: african-american
This graphic, yet very necessary story outlines the painful immigration of the African slaves. I don't think I have ever encountered a story that rings true with such descriptive authenticity and at the same time mixed with the magic of cultural folklore. Interesting blend! Due to its' graphic nature, I would recommend it to high school age students and older. This book has made a significant contribution to the body of African-American literature.
Nov 21, 2007 Lisa rated it liked it
A "fairy tale" that shows the brutality and violence of slavery. I wondered about its placement in children's fiction shelves (I checked different systems & all had it in children's). There is 1 mention of a sailor pinching a slave woman's nipples and another where a sailor is rubbing the female slaves' breasts. Maybe it should be in YA? Am I just being a prude?
Jul 23, 2015 Ali rated it it was amazing
An amazing story, well illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, which tells a story that is part horrifyingly true and part glorious legend. This book tells of the pain that many African slaves endured on their way to the United States but also tells of a magical man named The Old African who has special gifts. A beautifully written piece.
Jul 02, 2013 Starr rated it really liked it
When I first got this, I thought that it was a children's book. It's not, and there's nothing wrong with it not being one. I enjoyed the story, it was something that I had never heard of before. It makes me want to know more about the legend it was based off of.
Jul 23, 2009 Ginger rated it liked it
Similar to Virgina Hamilton's "The People Could Fly",but lacking her elegance, this story nevertheless manages to convince that there is a strength in faith placed in a strong leader.
Jun 11, 2012 Sandra rated it it was amazing
A great Cchildren's book - historical bent. Images and story are hauntingly beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
Pair this with Walter Mosley's 47.
S. H.
Aug 09, 2011 S. H. rated it liked it
The descriptions of what the slave trade was like in this book paints a vivid picture in your mind. Great story.
Lorraine Der
Oct 10, 2012 Lorraine Der rated it really liked it
Shelves: grades-4-6
Chacha (Vanessa) Centeno
Jun 04, 2016 Chacha (Vanessa) Centeno rated it it was amazing
Shelves: slavery
A powerful story.
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I was born on January 27, 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. From 1941-1954 I lived in Kansas City, Kansas, and from 1954-1961 in Nashville, Tennesse. I received a B.A. in English from Fisk University in 1960.

In 1961 I moved to New York City where I had a talk radio show on WBAI FM from 1966-1973, hosted a television talk show on WNET from 1969-1971.

Since 1968 I have published 43 books. Among the awards
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