An African Princess: From African Orphan to Queen Victoria’s Favourite

This historical study was first published by Scholastic in 1999. The current handsome edition mirrors the characteristics of a nineteenth-century travelogue, complete with atmospheric sepia photographs and illustrations of the book’s prominent places and players. In our current world where war and horror are everyday realities for countless children, the origins of this story are pertinent. During inter-tribal violence, a five-year-old African princess witnesses the slaughter of her parents and the destruction of their village. Following a period of imprisonment she is to be offered as a human sacrifice, but is rescued by the pleadings of an English naval officer and given to him as a present for Queen Victoria.

The narrative explores the relationship between the royal black child and the most powerful woman in the world. The monarch’s respect for the girl’s bloodline, interestingly, demonstrates that even in the midst of Empire, class outweighs questions of race. Victoria’s decisions as guardian, though, do not always lead to the princess’s happiness.

Before his death earlier this year, the author was a distinguished contributor to American children’s literature. Despite this prominence, however, his narrative is overly ambitious and under edited. In addition to telling a remarkable story, Myers seeks to explain, in sometimes unnecessary detail, both England’s colonial power and its stratified society. For instance, a remark about the queen’s ample figure spuriously leads to an exploration of the deprivation of the poor and hence to a quotation from a contemporary journalistic inquiry lasting for a page and a half. The unintegrated nature of such diversions detracts from the cohesion of the work.