Dorothy Brown Soper worked with Akan students and teachers in Ghana for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching high school French. Returning to the U.S., she earned an MA in African history with plans to introduce Americans to Africa. She has developed and taught many units on African history and culture for elementary classes. We Are Akan is her first novel. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her family. Visit her at www.dorothybrownsoper.com.
Title by Dorothy Brown Soper
We Are Akan
Released: October 2020
Genre: Young adult
1807: KWAME, KWAKU, AND BAAKO live in the most powerful kingdom in West Africa. Kwame is the son of a chief. Kwaku is the likely successor to the chief. Baako is a slave earning his freedom. The boys are good friends who work together daily. Guided by their families, elders, ceremonies, and stories, Kwame, Kwaku, and Baako strive to become leaders in the Akan culture.
In the capital city to see the king, the Golden Stool, and the Odwira festival, the boys meet foreign people, learn about writing and books, and witness the sale of slaves. Kwaku cares for a leopard cub that the king wants returned to the forest. On a mission to the coast, Kwame and Baako are kidnapped and threatened with sale to the slave trade.
The Asante Kingdom faces rebellion and the decline of its role in the Atlantic slave trade. Change will come. Kwame, Kwaku, and Baako balance the life they know with new possibilities for their future.
Claude E. Welch, Jr., Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY
“An excellent depiction of a famous African society adjusting to major pressures…Engrossing, well-paced, gripping adventures of three boys…Readers will appreciate pleasing illustrations, useful maps, and an exceptionally helpful glossary…”
“An immersive and thoughtful historical novel that explores West Africa in 1807.”
“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.
Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite
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?
Africa Access, reviewed by Charlotte Kukundakwe
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.
In sum, this is a captivating, well-written, and informative book about an important period and people in West African history. Readers will enjoy learning about the rich culture and traditions of the Akan people wrapped in a tale of adventure. Author Dorothy Brown Soper is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who taught French to Akan students in a rural boarding high school in Ghana. Illustrator James Cloutier served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya.
“ 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.’’
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.
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.
National Indie Excellence Awards, 2021,
2021, Finalist pre-teen fiction
Peace Corps Worldwide
Winner —The 2021 Award for Best Children’s Book about a Peace Corps Country