Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books, 2005.
150 pp., pbk. &cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $18.95.
ISBN 0-88899-664-0 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88899-653-5 (cl.).

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Lori Walker.
****

Originally published in 1990 as Little White
Man
, Meja Mwangi's story chronicles the
problematic friendship of two boys, one
Kenyan and one British, during the 1950's
Mau-Mau Revolt
that challenged British Colonial rule over Kenya.
Mwangi's work won the prestigious Deutscher Jugendliteraturepreis by
winning the hearts and minds of both youth and adult jury members, no
small accomplishment. The book combines adventure and that first
unforgettable taste of freedom and power, with a powerful lesson in African
history and the systemic impact of violence that accompanies colonial rule.

The book begins with young Kariuki's growing fear that his difficult life may
be becoming more difficult, with the Mau-Mau, Kenyan rebels fighting
British colonial land owners being the source of his village's growing
problems. Someone has stolen Bwana Ruin's rifle, and the white land
owner has herded the village that comprises his workforce into the cattle
auction pens to interrogate and intimidate. When Kariuki hears his father's
name called by one of the hundreds of white soldiers called in stem the
growing threat of rebellion, he believes he might never see him again. But
his father is Bwana Ruin's valued cook, spared in order that Bwana Ruin's
breakfast is not delayed.


Kuriuki's life is filled with violence and
injustice.
He survives the day-long imprisonment only to be beaten
by the headmaster of his school the next day for being absent from class.
He also endures beatings from his classmates, brother, and father. But he
finds his refuge in the rivers, pools and forests that surround his home.
One afternoon while watching a duck family at the pond, Kuriuki is
confronted by two Mau-Mau soldiers who force him to deliver a message to
his brother Hari. On his way, he is intercepted by his mother and is sent to
the pond to collect water. Here he encounters Bwana Ruin's grandson
Nigel, unaware that the Kenyan boy is meant to be treated as a recalcitrant
labourer, rather than a friend.

Kuriuki is immediately aware of the risk posed by the cheerful white boy,
but he is drawn into a friendship regardless. The boys share a
fascination of the land, its animals and adventure, but each exhibits a
naivete of the other's world, and, as they learn from each other, their
growing mutual respect further entrenches their friendship.

The boys' hunting adventures are rich with danger and suspense. Nigel
learns which berries are lethal, how to conduct himself around cobras, and
all about the world of the Jimis, the just barely domesticated dogs that
accompany the boys on their forest excursions. Undeterred by adults who
warn both boys to stay apart and several close calls in the forest, the boys
set their sights on hunting down Old Moses, the oldest, meanest warthog
in the forest. They take along Bwana Ruin's guard dogs, Salt and Paper,
which are as naive of the dangers of the forest and its inhabitants as
young Nigel. But Old Moses does not pose the biggest threat to the safety
of the boys. Mau-Mau soldiers capture Nigel, and fearing he had abandoned
his friend, Kuriuki sets off to rescue him, at unimaginable personal cost.


This honest, poignant story offer readers an invaluable introduction to
colonial history in Africa and the scars this history has left on its cultures
and people. Meja Mwangi's book offers an opportunity to understand and
discuss the roots and legacy of racism, as well as create an awareness of
how the oppression that still exists in many forms impacts young people
around the world. It would be enjoyed as an independent book choice or as
classroom reading. As Judi Saltman writes in the
Riverside Anthology of
Children's Literature
, "The best realistic fiction for children...has always
been distinguished by historical accuracy, precise observation, emotional
truthfulness, strong plot, and well-rounded, sympathetic characters. And
all the best stories for children, of whatever type, have one common
element:

They speak with a personal voice" (p. 668).
The Mzungu Boy exemplifies realistic fiction at its best.

Highly Recommended.

Lori Walker
has a PhD. in Communication from Simon Fraser University
and has returned to school to indulge in a Masters in Children's Literature
at UBC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to
cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
HM Productions Intl.                                        All Rights Reserved
copyright 2008 by HM Entertainment Inc.
For young Kariuki,
life in a small
village in central
Kenya is one great
adventure.
And when he
meets Nigel life becomes even
more interesting. Nigel is from
England and he has come to
visit his great grandfather, the
fearsome Bwana Ruin who
owns the farm where all the
villagers work. The villagers call
Nigel the mzungu boy, and
they view him with suspicion
and fear.

Nevertheless, Kariuki becomes
friends with Nigel and the two
spend happy days exploring
the forest together. Then one
day the two boys decide to
hunt down Old Moses, the
biggest, ugliest, oldest and
meanest warthog in the forest.
The hunt takes them deeper
into the jungle than Kariuki
has ever gone, and his beloved
forest becomes a frightening
place, filled with dangerous
creatures, including the
mau-mau, the mysterious men
who have guns and are
plotting against Bwana Ruin
and the white soldiers. And
when Nigel suddenly
disappears, Kariuki realizes
that it is up to him to save his
friend.
The Mzungu Boy was
listed among
American Library
Association's 100 top
Children's Books for
2006
Meja Mwangi's novel
captures a child's-eye view
of village life in Kenya in the
late 1950s - a time of
innocence, wild beauty, and
the growing violence that
would change the entire
structure of colonial Africa.
The Mzungu Boy
"[The] Mzungu Boy,
with its play of light and
dark, innocence and
experience, goodness
and evil, is a superb
achievement on the
part of its author, Meja
Mwangi."
- Globe and
Mail
"Mwangi's characterization
is accurate and
insightful..."
-   The
Bulletin of the Center for
Children's Books
REVIEWS
HM Books cover of The Mzungu Boy by Meja Mwangi