Dorothy Brown Soper
AWARDS and REVIEWS
Peace Corps Writers
Winner of the 2021 Award for the Best Children's Book
about a Peace Corps Country
National Indie Excellence Awards
Finalist, pre-teen fiction, May 2021
"An immersive and thoughtful historical novel that explores West Africa in 1807”
Center for African Studies, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
Reviewed by Charlotte Kukundakwe
Published in Africa Access Review, February 24, 2021
“In sum, this is a captivating, well-written, and informative book about an important period and people in West African history.”
We are Akan is a beautifully told work of historical fiction about the Akan people of Ghana’s powerful Asante Kingdom. Set in 1807, the plot revolves around the lives and activities of three young boys aged 10-13. Kwame and Kwaku are members of the Akan elite while Baako is ‘odonko’- enslaved by Kwame’s father who is chief. The boys are childhood friends whose lives are filled with adventure in the Tanoso rainforest. A journey to Elmina Castle on the coast turns out to be a dangerous assignment as Kwame almost drowns in the Pra river. Later Kwame and Baako are kidnapped by rebels and are set to be sold as prisoners. The book’s central themes are family, community, power, and oppression of a minority.
The Table of Contents provides a detailed guide to the novel. Part One, ‘Our Town’ launches the plot and includes chapters on daily life, the different Akan clans and traditions, including the Adae ceremony which brings the people together to honor their ancestors and celebrate as a community. The chapter entitled ‘Wisdom’ imparts life lessons through proverbs and stories, including one about Kwaku Ananse. Part One also includes the legend of Asantehene Osei Tutu and the golden stool. Part Two, ‘The Asante Kingdom.’ highlights the city of Kumasi, the Asantehene’s palace, Islam and Arabic. Part Three, ‘The Coast’ includes a visit to Elmina and Cape Coast castles.
Detailed illustrations by James Cloutier enhance the reading experience. There are over 90 drawings and include images of chiefs, the palace, and important artifacts including the Sankofa bird, gold weights and stools. Maps of the Asante kingdom and modern-day Ghana help the reader to place the kingdom in its geographical and historical contexts. The author’s repetitive use of Twi, a language spoken widely in Ghana, gives the reader an opportunity to learn several Twi words. The end notes provide an introduction to the Akan people, a glossary, a guide to Twi and a bibliography which includes online resources. These additions and the detailed table of contents make the novel useful for classroom instruction.
“Elders say that if a grasshopper’s eyes extend beyond its eyebrows, it becomes ugly. When a grasshopper opens its eyes wide, it is looking down on people. This is a warning. Never look down on people. Respect your ancestors, your elders, and your friends. If you do, they will respect you and help you.’’
Published in PW, Publishers Weekly, March 29, 2021
Takeaway: "This richly historical African adventure will entertain and inform young readers and their parents."
Offering up a historical adventure featuring African culture and the Akan tribe in the Asante Kingdom, Soper’s debut middle reader follows the circuitous lives of three young boys: Kwame, the chief's son; Kwaku, the chief’s heir; and Baako, a slave hoping to earn his freedom. Friends from a young age, though individually different and on divergent paths, the boys experience life lessons together and find themselves in dire situations that they must escape. Peppered with beautiful illustrations, and offering history and knowledge of the Akan clans, Soper weaves a powerful coming of age story set against a rich display of African culture.
Engaging characters will keep young readers involved, and Soper’s use of the native tongue, Twi, lends authenticity to the story as We Are Akan touches on the history of the Akan tribe leading up to and during the Atlantic Slave Trade and the voyages that originally carried African people to North America. Opening chapters deliver a crash course on the class system, the commerce industry, and the daily lives of the Akan people, with absorbing specifics like the spearing of a cobra and the “smoked fish that he carried wrapped in a leaf on top of a flat rock.”
At the end of the book, Soper includes a more thorough “Introduction to the Akan People,” covering, among other topics, their deep-seated extended family structure and formidable army. For readers not already well-versed in the Akan culture, this might have proven more helpful at the start. James Cloutier’s illustrations offer snapshots of daily Akan life, including acts such as pounding fufu (a well-known African dish) and the “Descent of the Golden Stool,” a festival ritual honoring Akan legend.This story’s action-packed, educational style will resonate with readers of all ages looking to gain knowledge of African history and charm those seeking a narrative that features diverse history and characters.
Great for fans of: Kwame Mbalia's Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky, Beverley Naidoo’s Burn My Heart.
Reviewed by Rabia Tanveer
“We Are Akan is a highly recommended book!”
We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest - Ghana, 1807 by Dorothy Brown Soper features detailed illustrations by James Cloutier. Set in 1807, the story follows the lives of three boys living in the Asante Kingdom of West Africa. Baako is a slave who works to earn his freedom, Kwaku is slated to be the next chief, and Kwame is the son of the chief. The three of them hope to become leaders, but the path ahead is filled with hurdles they might not be ready to overcome. From kidnapping with the threat of being sold into slavery to fighting emotional challenges, these three young boys are on the path to becoming incredible young men. However, before that can happen, they have to face the challenges and accept the changes in their lives. Do they have what it takes to become a leader? Or are they just one of many in the crowd?
You rarely come across books of this caliber in your lifetime. The narrative and the illustrations fit perfectly together and take the reading experience to the next level. Dorothy Brown Soper very smartly divides the story into three parts, which indicates the change in the story and development of the characters. Kwame, Baako, and Kwaku are three very smart and powerful characters. They have an innocence that I am sure will resonate with younger readers, yet they have an air of intelligence as they grow and develop. My favorite out of the three of these characters is Baako. He is resilient, smart, and ready to take chances. Maybe it has to do with his circumstances, but I truly enjoyed his reactions and how he works hard to become better and do better.
Reviewed by K.C. Finn
“I would highly recommend We Are Akan to fans of realistic historical work, cultural learning experiences, and for middle-grade students everywhere.”
We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest - Ghana, 1807 is a work of fiction in the coming of age, cultural fiction, and children’s historical drama sub-genres, and was penned by author Dorothy Brown Soper. The work is intended for the middle-grade reading audience and for those with an interest in learning more about the Akan culture. Set at the turn of the nineteenth century, the work follows three young men, Kwame, Kwaku, and Baako, whose journey to the capital to see the king opens their eyes to a whole new world of possibilities for their respective futures. The work also contains gorgeous illustrations throughout the text by artist James Cloutier.
Author Dorothy Brown Soper has crafted an immersive and highly engaging work of fiction that replicates reality and provides a rich learning and reading experience for middle-grade readers and above. The author creates a vibrant and colorful mood with the attention to detail in the atmospheric language, bringing a vivid sense of awakening to both the characters and the readers themselves. The lexical and descriptive choices are really well balanced to represent the speech and specific terms of the Akan culture, but the prose is also cleverly worded to explain the technical language rather than confuse readers. And the fabulously eye-catching illustrations by artist James Cloutier also really aid in understanding and engagement for younger readers. Overall, I would highly recommend We Are Akan to fans of realistic historical work, cultural learning experiences and for middle-grade students everywhere.
Reviewed by Grace Masso
“…a story that explores African basic values of bravery, family, friendship, love, and community.”
We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest — Ghana, 1807 by Dorothy Brown Soper is a blend of historical and coming-of-age, a story with a gripping setting that features life in the rainforests of Ghana in the 1800s.
This book follows compelling characters — Kwame, Kwaku, and Baako — from one of the most powerful kingdoms in West Africa in 1807. Kwame is the royal son and Kwaku is the would-be successor to the chief. Baako is a slave boy who works hard to one day earn his freedom. Each of them has a dream of playing an important role in the Akan culture. When they travel to the city, Kumasi, to take part in the Odwira festival and see the King and the Golden Stool, their world is shaken when they witness the slave trade. Kwame and Baako get kidnapped eventually and threatened to be sold as slaves. With the turbulence ignited by the rebellion against the Asante Kingdom and the decline of the Atlantic slave trade, the friends consider new possibilities.
This is a well-written book that anyone who has travelled to the forest lands in Africa will love. Dorothy Brown Soper weaves a tale that is rippled with history and culture and that features an exciting world to explore. The life of the Akan is skillfully portrayed in the narrative, with cultural elements like hunting as an integral element of the evolution of manhood, life in the hearth, the art of mentorship in the slave-trade era, and royalty. There are interesting characters like Elder Kofi, who leads the young boys in hunting and whom they look to for guidance. What the reader gets in this compelling narrative is a colorful picture of a Clan or tribe in Ghana in 1807; it is a story that explores African basic values of bravery, family, friendship, love, and community.
The book is beautifully illustrated by James Cloutier, offering images that grab the attention of readers and force their eyes to linger on the pages. We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest — Ghana, 1807 features an impressive glossary and a bibliography that complements the story. This is a gripping story that explores what it meant to grow up in the rainforests of Ghana in the 19th Century; it is told in excellent prose and unveils the heart of a culture that readers will enjoy exploring.
Midwest Book Review
Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer
We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest - Ghana, 1807 will appeal from middle grades to high school with a special brand of historical fiction centered in Africa, in the Asante Kingdom.
Three special boys, Kwame, Kwaku, and Baako, face the challenge of becoming leaders in their kingdom, learning the physical rites of passage of coming of age and the political workings of the broader kingdom beyond their home, which includes selling prisoners as slaves. When this practice hits them personally, change is in the air as the Akan people and this younger generation struggle with kidnapping, rebellion, and a long established slave trade.
Black and white maps and illustrations by James Cloutier enhance an appealing saga about new ideas, new changes, and three boys challenged by a kingdom on the edge of a new era of social and political strife.
The African world of early Ghana and the people who reside in its rainforest come to life as the story unfolds; bringing with it many inspections into customs, cultural processes, sophisticated interactions, and a frightening confrontation that emerges when a chief is arrested.
The juxtaposition of boyhood concerns and play with the very adult world of events that threaten them and change everything is very nicely done, with many passages illustrating the daily trappings of Akan culture, perceptions, and life.
As the children grow and change, so do readers who may have held preconceived notions about Africa's early kingdoms.
We Are Akan is at once a coming-of-age story, a cultural exploration, and a survey of not just changing individual lives and perceptions, but the transformation of a nation.
Young readers interested in absorbing the milieu of early 1800s Africa through the eyes of children who will grow up to inherit a kingdom will find We Are Akan nicely detailed, replete with historical and cultural inspections that provide a full-faceted flavor of Ghana at a pivot point in its history.
Peace Corps Writers
Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken
Peace Corps Volunteer, Ethiopia, 1962–64
Imagine this reader’s surprise to see the date of 1807 implying this was a historical story, in Africa! Lucky would be the kids in school today who get to read about a powerful, intelligent, community-minded kingdom located in Ghana in West Africa, in 1807!
The story follows young people going about their daily lives doing work for and about the community. Their “educations” are mapped out and led by elders or older relatives. Women do honorable work and most important of all, each child’s experiences and attempts to accomplish tasks are rewarded with warm words of encouragement from those teachers/parents. They are encouraging, grateful and caring. Thus teaching the children about responsibility and humility.
Most interesting was the parallel between what this kingdom was experiencing in terms of threats to their ways as they knew them and today’s world with climate change, disregard for diverse perspectives, for building community, and the willful destruction of our resources. Today’s readers may be saddened as the fate of the kingdom’s future is fast approaching, from our perspective.
Ancient indigenous peoples lived close to the land, were dependent on it for survival and livelihood, and gave it a great deal of respect. I can only imagine what a teacher today, using this book with students, could discuss with them: values, caring for resources, the importance of family, caring for less fortunate and old vs. new ways of doing things. And so much more.
The amount of research and knowledge required to write a series of stories filled with daily routines and events as well as fear of the unknown, and heightened awareness of the world outside through travel and adventure, is impressive. Seeing young people on the way toward a more informed, educated future, is very significant. We might wonder, what happened to these people and their dreams? Are they the better for it or not? This was a question we PCVs often asked ourselves. Are we helping by bringing the values and tools of the outside-developed world into a less developed country? Will they be better off? Or will it destroy their culture, as they knew it? Is that inevitable? Is history repeating itself?
Equally impressive is the section at the rear of the book entitled, “Introduction to the Akan People.” Placing it at the end after reading the book brought the work full circle. We Are Akan is based on the work of many scholars including the language, culture, art, ceremonies, trade and so much more. The Akan who later would adopt and release them references European slave trade as well as the use of slaves and prisoners.
This review would not be complete without the mention of the charming illustrations by James Cloutier. They bring the stories to life!