Blog Tour – First Names: Nelson Mandela by Nansubuga N. Isdahl illustrated by Nicole Miles

David Fickling Books’ First Names series are presented with their trademark cartoon style illustrations and comic strips familiar from The Phoenix comic and coupled with detailed information and fascinating facts about a number of well known and inspirational people. To the varied names featured in the series they have now added Nelson Mandela. The engaging and accessible style ensures that young readers are quickly drawn in and many of the facts are displayed in graphic format making learning lively and fun. Yet “Nelson” provides a full and impressively comprehensive overview of this remarkable man’s life and this highly readable book would be a valuable addition to bookshelves at home or in school.

The story begins then with the family history and early childhood of small boy Rolihlahla, later named Nelson at school, following him through childhood education to university studies, marriage, early political involvement and later hardships, battles against apartheid, trial, imprisonment and subsequent achievements as President of South Africa. The various complex and difficult subjects are presented in a manner that children can follow and understand and the presentation makes the assimilation of the facts easier for young readers to grasp. There is also a useful pronunciation guide, glossary, timeline and index completing this informative and fascinating read.

I was struck by the style of the presentation and the way in which author and illustrator have created a book that is clearly a joint endeavour and one that treats the man and the subject with sensitivity and respect so am delighted to welcome both Nansubuga Isdahl and Nicole Miles to discuss their collaboration. I found their comments enlightening and think it explains why First Names: Nelson Mandela works so well and I hope you enjoy reading this too.

Collaboration and Creating The Book – First Names: Nelson Mandela


Thanks for having me! 

Despite the fact that writing is largely a solitary process, or perhaps because of this, one of the things I enjoy most about bringing stories to life through books is the collaboration process.

For Nelson, this largely revolved around working together with the book’s wonderful editor, Helen Greathead, and very talented illustrator, Nicole Miles. I felt very fortunate that my perspectives and feedback were sought and integrated into the look and feel of the book, especially because I had spent nearly a decade living in South Africa and the country holds a significant place in my heart. I was particularly eager to see Nicole’s illustrations because the book was largely set in South Africa during an incredibly challenging period (that’s actually an understatement) in the country’s history. The illustrations also had to capture the realities of the country from the time of Nelson’s birth (1918) through to the present day. 

I thought that from the start, Nicole’s illustrations were brilliant. I do remember feeling quite nervous to see some of the illustrations set early on in the book, because these depicted village life and I thought it quite important that they were both accurate and respectful representations, but still playful. I think Nicole did an incredible job of this, and I can’t imagine that it was easy. But I think some of the most striking and powerful illustrations were those that rendered Nelson’s life during apartheid.  There is a way in which Nicole was able to capture what was essentially a harrowing experience – the brutality of discrimination and the way in which black people and other groups were treated as inferior – with both sensitivity and humour. The illustrations, I felt, were such a necessary element in this book, in particular, providing a much-needed balance. There’s something about capturing what apartheid looked like visually that lifts the words off the page and plants them in your mind. At the same time, the illustrations lightened the text. This was needed given the heavy subject matter. 

Overall, I was deeply impressed by Nicole’s ability to elevate the text through her drawings and I also just really enjoyed many of the finer details of her work. She has a skilled hand and it was a pleasure collaborating with her on a project that I feel shares very important messages for children. I have no doubt that her illustrations will provoke some interesting and nuanced discussions in classes and homes! 

NICOLE MILES, illustrator: 

This project was a really intimidating one. There are something like 150 illustrations in the book and, being about Nelson Mandela, I wanted to make sure it did justice to the his legacy. Initially though, things were just a liiiiittle rocky. I’d sent over some illustrations of Nelson and my sample spread which was to give the team an idea of how I would be approaching the book. The feedback came in and it was…a little unsure where I was taking things. It was probably a little sparse and definitely a little stiff. I think I had the impression it needed to be very serious. I sent another sample in and this one was less sparse but still wasn’t hitting where it needed to. Looking back on it, these early samples didn’t have enough personality and, to be honest, didn’t feel like me. I had a call with the Art Director and, through her just talking more about the feeling they were after, the audience and the aims for the book, everything was a lot clearer. I was actually really relieved that they wanted to go in a direction that is much more aligned to me and that focusses on an energy that feels engaging and that helps amplify the words. It was a refreshing restart and things were a lot smoother from there.

Speaking of the words, I really wanted to do right by the author, Nansubuga N Isdahl. I learned a lot from her text and she had clearly put so much into it. I wanted to help bring it to life as best I could. And my Art Director, Katie Keywood-Taylor was a great guide through the project. She was essentially the liaison between Nansu (and the editorial team), and me. It was thanks to her interpretation of the text and her feedback on the illustrations that we were able to strike the right tone between fun and informative.

When I took on this project it was big and daunting and there was so much to do. It’s kind of surreal to see all that work come together at the end into something I’m proud of and excited to share.

Thank you Nansubuga and Nicole for taking the time to explain the creative process behind this excellent guide to Nelson Mandela’s remarkable life. I would like to thank David Fickling Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour over the coming days.

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1 Response to Blog Tour – First Names: Nelson Mandela by Nansubuga N. Isdahl illustrated by Nicole Miles

  1. Pingback: Reading Matters – children’s book news | Library Lady

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