The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron. (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995. My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.7 (worth 4.0 points) .
Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences. Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.
Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years. For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative. If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.
After chapter two, the pace increases. Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters. Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.
This edition contains 8 pages of black and white images related to the text, including a map of Olaudah’s travels. Parents and teachers will want to preview these. There is also a glossary of naval terms and a bibliography. Some points in the book have explanatory footnotes. I would have loved footnotes calling out the sexism. I’m torn about the back matter, which provides valuable context but could have been better integrated with the text and might disturb sensitive readers.
Warnings: This book contains all you’d expect from a book about slavery. Olaudah is kidnapped, sold, beaten, starved, sick, does brutal labor without pay, etc. One unexpected aspect (that makes sense given his living conditions) is he contemplates suicide at several points. Suicide is actually first referenced in the text with one owner so grief-stricken that a 24-hour suicide watch is kept after his child dies. (Mental health issues were around in 1788 too.) /warnings
This book may elicit different reactions from adopted children or those in foster care. Olaudah is forcibly removed from his home and repeatedly enters situations where he feels like part of a family, only to be sold. On page 22, he outright states that he believed he was going to be adopted. Some children may empathize or be able to use it as a discussion point while others may find it traumatic. Please consider this and be sensitive to children’s varying needs.
Olaudah talks about God a lot. I imagine this is even toned down from the original. He speaks about his family’s religion as well, but uses very Christian terms. It’s difficult to tell if he is doing so for the benefit of his readers or because his memories are influenced by later conversion. Olaudah also directly calls out the hypocrisy of Christian slave owners several times.
I’m not certain about the age level. It seems written for 3rd-5th grade, and I wouldn’t recommend it for younger that due to content. For families this could make a great read-aloud if parents were willing to work through the difficult topics. I strongly recommend this book for middle school classrooms and libraries.
This is a little simplistic for older readers, but I think adults could still benefit. Olaudah’s book essentially created the genre of slave narratives, which had a wide reaching historical and social effect and still influences modern literature. He captures a time rarely shown from a minority viewpoint. If you read middle grade books, this short book is worth your time.