Cover image for The royal kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay : life in medieval Africa
The royal kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay : life in medieval Africa
McKissack, Pat, 1944-2017.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Holt, 1994.
Physical Description:
xviii, 141 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Examines the civilizations of the Western Sudan which flourished from 700 to 1700 A.D., acquiring such vast wealth that they became centers of trade and culture for a continent.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT532 .M35 1994 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DT532 .M35 1994 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Examines the civilizations of the Western Sudan which flourished from 700 to 1700 A.D., acquiring such vast wealth that they became centers of trade and culture for a continent.

Author Notes

Patricia C. McKissack was born in Smyrna, Tennessee on August 9, 1944. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Tennessee State University in 1964 and a master's degree in early childhood literature and media programming from Webster University in 1975. After college, she worked as a junior high school English teacher and a children's book editor at Concordia Publishing.

Since the 1980's, she and her husband Frederick L. McKissack have written over 100 books together. Most of their titles are biographies with a strong focus on African-American themes for young readers. Their early 1990s biography series, Great African Americans included volumes on Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, and Paul Robeson. Their other works included Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers and Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States. Over their 30 years of writing together, the couple won many awards including the C.S. Lewis Silver Medal, a Newbery Honor, nine Coretta Scott King Author and Honor awards, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and the NAACP Image Award for Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?. In 1998, they received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

She also writes fiction on her own. Her book included Flossie and the Fox, Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt, A Friendship for Today, and Let's Clap, Jump, Sing and Shout; Dance, Spin and Turn It Out! She won the Newberry Honor Book Award and the King Author Award for The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural in 1993 and the Caldecott Medal for Mirandy and Brother Wind. She dead of cardio-respiratory arrest on April 7, 2017 at the age of 72.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-10. This history challenges those old myths of "darkest" Africa waiting to be opened up by the "civilizing" Europeans. While parts of Europe struggled to emerge from the Dark Ages, trade and culture flourished in great cities of West Africa, where artisans crafted sumptuous gold objects and scholars attracted students to centers of learning. The history of medieval Africa, long ignored and distorted, is here given full attention. The McKissacks are careful to distinguish what is known from what is surmised; they draw on the oral tradition, eyewitness accounts, and contemporary scholarship; and chapter source notes discuss various conflicting views of events. Nor is the history all glorious: the authors are candid about widespread slavery in the old African kingdoms and about brutal conditions in the salt and gold mines that provided the wealth for the cities; they depict even great leaders such as Sundiata, the warrior-king of the Mali, as fully rounded people rather than as mythic heroes. Unfortunately, however, this is not easy reading. The facts are dramatic, but the prose is boring. Parts read like research notes, with little of the strong narrative style that distinguishes the best of the McKissacks' work. Included are a timeline, bibliography, and careful source notes; maps to come. ~--Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The McKissacks ( Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman? ) continue to illuminate aspects of African American heritage with this introduction to three major kingdoms of medieval Africa: Ghana, Mali and Songhay. Based on folklore, contemporaneous accounts and modern scholarly research, their discussion covers the origins, customs, people and political history of these civilizations, which flourished from approximately A.D. 500 to 1700 but which until recently have been neglected by historians. Because much of the available information about medieval Africa is sketchy at best, the narrative is sometimes confusing, especially when the authors combine divergent theories or rely on myth and legend to fill holes in the historical record. Still, their volume contains insightful information about an important period in both African and world history and explores such complicated issues as African involvement in the slave trade and the role of religion in establishing, shaping and destroying bygone kingdoms. A timeline, notes and extensive bibliography encourage further reading. Ages 10-14. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-7-The McKissacks describe the West African civilizations that flourished between the years 700 C.E. to 1700 C.E. A chronological account is given of each successive kingdom, and there is also substantial information about the social history of Mali and Songhay, e.g., education, the treatment of women, religion, and arts and crafts. The relationship between Islam and politics, and the interplay between traditional and Islamic customs in Mali and Songhay are highlighted. The authors have attempted something unique with their inclusion of indigenous and contemporaneous historical accounts (by such historians as Leo Africanus and Ibn Battuta), as well as in their substantial use of oral history. While this makes for an interesting perspective, it prevents the line between history and mythology from being clearly drawn. For example, in the story of Sundiata, visits from a powerful king in the magical form of an owl are not distinguished from the factual dates that Sundiata ruled Mali. This might limit the usefulness of the book to situations in which adults are able to help students think critically about the text. Adequate but uninspired photographs of ancient artifacts and modern people with traditional life styles illustrate the text. Unfortunately, the maps do not make clear the geographical relationships among the three kingdoms (they existed at different times, and in each case the territory of the earlier kingdom was wholly or partly subsumed under the later kingdom). The helpful notes discuss the validity of certain bibliographical sources. The informative time line links events in Africa to those in other parts of the world, and the bibliography is impressive. In spite of its limitations, this title will be an important addition to most collections.-Susan Giffard, Midtown Ethical Culture School, New York City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.