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At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England - Walter Dean Myers

Citation:

Myers, W. D. (1999). At her majesty's request: An African princess in Victorian England. New York: Scholastic Press.

 

Annotation: Frantic shouts and cries awaken a young girl. Her West African village is being attacked. She is dragged out of her home and watches in horror as her parents are murdered before her eyes. The attacking warriors examine her and notice the markings on her face. They are the markings of a princess.

The girl is captured and held for a ritual in which she will be killed. Then, in 1850, on the very day set for her death, a British naval officer rescues her. She is christened Sarah Forbes Bonetta and taken to England. There she is presented to Queen Victoria, who decided to provide for the upbringing of this young, orphaned princess.

Walter Dean Myers discovered a body of letters concerning Sarah, and some actually written by her, in a rare book and ephemera shop in London. What he saw there fascinated him, and he set out to unearth the details of her unique and engaging life. He found an extraordinary story — of royalty, of race, of class, of belonging, and of identity. Now, after years of meticulous research, Myers unveils this arresting portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, African princess.

 

Author's Information:

Walter Dean Myers is the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of more than eighty books for children and young adults, including Sunrise Over Fallujah, Fallen Angels, Monster, Somewhere in the Darkness, Slam!, Jazz, and Harlem. Mr. Myers has received two Newbery Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, and the inaugural recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. In addition, he was the winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award and the 1994 recipient of the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring an author for a "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature." He is considered one of the preeminent writers for children.

In 2012, Walter Dean Myers was named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. The National Ambassador program, sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Children’s Book Council, was established in 2008 with the naming of Jon Scieszka for the first two-year term. Candidates are selected based on their contribution to young people’s literature and their ability to relate to children.

Walter began writing at an early age. "I was a good student, but a speech impediment was causing problems. One of my teachers decided that I couldn't pronounce certain words at all. She thought that if I wrote something, I would use words I could pronounce. I began writing little poems. I began to write short stories, too." Realizing that his family would not be able to afford college, Walter joined the Army on his seventeenth birthday. When he got out, he worked various jobs and he wrote at night. "I wrote for magazines," says Walter. "I wrote adventure stuff, I wrote for the National Enquirer, I wrote advertising copy for cemeteries." A winning contest entry with the Council on Interracial Books for Children became his first book, Where Does the Day Go?

Amiri and Odette: A Love Story is a modern retelling of Swan Lake. "I had seen the ballet of Swan Lake as a child but it was as an adult, when I saw a production featuring Erik Bruhn, that I first noticed how significant a part the ever-present threat of violence played. This juxtaposition of great beauty and grace with a backdrop of pure evil stayed with me for years. As a writer, I absorb stories, allow them to churn within my own head and heart — often for years — until I find a way of telling them that fits both my time and temperament. In listening to Pyotr Tchaikovsky's score," Walter continues, "I found the violence muted, but slowly, in my head, the sometimes jarring rhythms of modern jazz and hip-hop began to intervene. I asked myself if there were modern dangers to young people similar to the magic spells of folklore. The answer of course, was a resounding yes, and I began to craft a modern, urban retelling of the Swan Lake ballet." 

"I so love writing," says Walter. "It is not something that I am doing just for a living, this is something that I love to do. When I work, what I'll do is outline the story first. That forces me to do the thinking. I cut out pictures of all my characters and my wife puts them into a collage, which goes on the wall above the computer. When I walk into that room, I see the characters, and I just get very close to them. I rush through a first draft, and then I go back and rewrite, because I can usually see what the problems are going to be ahead of me. Rewriting is a lot more fun for me than the writing is."

Walter Dean Myers died in New York City on July 1, 2014 after a brief illness.

 

Awards:

2000/2001 Lone Star Reading List

1999 Blue Ribbon Award from the Center for Children's Books

2000 Orbus Pictus Award

Virginia Young Readers Titles for 2001-2002

Levels: Grades 6-8

Genre: Historical Fiction