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The Kidnapped Prince

for ages 8 to adult

Book cover for the Kidnapped PrinceThis book is a great book, a magnificent book, and one every American child should read. It is a classic.

I'm speaking without vanity because it isn't my book, it's my adaptation of the autobiography of an African prince, Olaudah Equiano. Olaudah's story is one of the first two autobiographies of enslaved Africans ever written in English. It is a founding work of African-American literature.

Olaudah was born in the African kingdom of Benin in about 1745. When he was eleven years old, he was kidnapped into slavery--torn away from his family, from his beloved sister who was kidnapped with him, and from every single person who spoke his language.

When he was so sad he thought he'd die of sadness, he was sold to an English Navy captain who was kind to him. He learned to read and write with other boys on shipboard. He took part in battles against the French, running through a hail of cannonballs, carrying powder to the English ship's big guns.

After many adventures and friendships and heartaches, he won his freedom.

Book cover for the Kidnapped PrinceIn 1789 he published his autobiography. English royalty opposed to slavery paid for its publication. Olaudah commissioned his own portrait for the book. I found the portrait in researching this adaptation; it hadn't been printed with the book for close to 200 years. I was proud to bring Olaudah's portrait and his words together again.

You can see the portrait here. From it, the modern artist Dan Andreasen was able to imagine how Olaudah would have looked as a boy for the cover.

Olaudah wrote his story of life in slavery because he hoped it would help to end slavery forever. It did, and his book became a bestseller worldwide. It has been in print ever since.

In adapting Olaudah's story for children, I kept his original language as much as possible. He sometimes wrote long complex sentences that were the mark of eighteenth-century writing. I shorten these. In this version, Olaudah's exciting and inspiring story would be easy for a third grader to listen to, not difficult for a fourth-grader to read alone, and powerful for readers of any age.

The climax of the original book really comes two thirds of the way through Olaudah's story, when he gains his freedom. I ended the book at this point. I didn't add any ideas of my own to his story or fictionalize it in any way.

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