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

In 1849, a young African girl came within moments of being sacrificed in the bloody Dahomian ritual called the "watering of the graves." But Commander Frederick E. Forbes, the young British captain of the HMS Bonetta, intervened, provoking Dahomian King Gezo to offer the girl as a gift to Queen Victoria instead. Forbes named the girl Sarah Forbes Bonetta and took her back to England, where she became Queen Victoria's protege. Walter Dean Myers discovered the kernel of Sarah's story in a bundle of original letters he purchased from a London book dealer. From these letters, along with excerpts from Queen Victoria's diary, newspapers, and Forbes's published account of the Dahomans, Myers pieced together Sarah's life. In his unembellished narrative we learn about Sarah's capture by the slave-trading Dahomans; her rescue by Forbes; her life in England under the Forbes' care; her regular visits to the Queen; her stay at a missionary school in Sierra Leone and abrupt return to England; her marriage and early death. Yet, as horrific and miraculous as the events of Sarah's life are, Myers can only pose questions about who Sarah really was ("What were her dreams for her own future...? What images came to her as she rode in the pony cart with the royal children? How often did she think of Dahomey? Of King Gezo?"). Sarah's chatty, unprovocative letters, which hint at the upperclass Englishwoman she became, reveal nothing about her African heritage or about the traumatized girl she must have been (Myers could not even discover her African name). Ironically, this seeming weakness proves the ultimate testimony to Sarah's life-the very absence of her voice bears undeniable witness to her story.

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Book Details

Review Score: ★★★★★ (11 reviews)
ISBN : 9780590486705
Publisher : Scholastic, Inc.
Publication Date : 4/1/1999
Pages : 146

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

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★★★★★ - Lois-ellin Datta

Rarely does history show such kindness and courage as in this true story of a six year old girl. In the 1840's, British Lt. Forbes's task in Africa includes ending the horrors of Dahomey King Gezo's murderous swath. Gezo's well-documented atrocities are fueled by the traditional Dahomey way of earning money in the slave trade while terrifying any opponents by total slaughter of anyone unsuitable for slavery---a story not too much changed in those blood-soaked lands. The King sees no reason to back down at a ceremony giving ancestors blood, until Lt. Forbes, protesting the immanent death of a very small girl, hits on the idea of saying Queen Victoria would not respect King Gezo for killing children. The King agrees to kill only adults, saving face by making the child a gift to his fellow monarch. Some months later, when Lt Forbes sails for Britain on his ship, the Bonetta, he takes the little girl with him.

The child----newly named Sarah Forbes Bonetta---had been welcomed by the British Church Missionary Society, taught English and the behavior as well as dress appropriate to the daughter of chief who is thus a Princess. Dutifully reporting her arrival as a present from King Gezo, the good Lt. Forbes finds the Queen welcomes the child personally and takes her under the Royal wing, financially and as her guardian. Both Victoria and Albert were fond of children, Sarah appears to have been well-prepared for her Royal role, a thoroughly enchanting young person, and she is soon on family terms with the Queen, her own Princesses and Princes, and particularly Princess Alice.

This simply written, well-illustrated book uses the scant available materials to tell what happened next. The little Princess proved highly intelligent, yearning for and responsive to love as member of Victorian missionary families with whom she was placed at the Queen's request, eloquent in her letters, but resistant to a marraige to a suitor from Africa. She eventually yielded to pressure, found herself liking her husband, had three children, and, sadly, died of tuberculosis in her late 30s. The Queen, whose affections rang deep, proved a lifelong friend personally and financially to Sarah's daughter, Victoria Davies.

Except for King Gezo, this story is about great kindnesses and great courage, the heroine's dignity and determination those of a true princess and the compassion of the British Queen and Sarah's friends, bright stars in what can be a much darker, sadder night of Victorian colonialism.

Highly recommened for readers of all ages. Many thanks to author Walter Dean Meyers who spotted a package of old letters in an antiquarian's shop, researched, and save for us this significant life and a significant part of history. More can be found about King Gezo and Dahomey but there is a tale waiting to be told about the Queen's fondness and partiality to people of color and the role these personal friendships played---perhaps somewhat inadvertently, perhaps with intentional strategy--- in her Empire.

★★★★★ - dode

I have had nothing but great service from Amazon when ordering the many books I have read thus far. I also use Amazon very often when purchasing other items. Anyone can have great confidence in Amazon.

When I received this book, I sat down right away and began to read because it really caught my attention. I read it within that same day. The story of that little princess was very very interesting and that little girl was a wonderful person as she grew into an adult. I am sure there are many like her and wish there were more benefactors to help them.

★★★★★ - [email protected]

In a book shop in England the author buys the letters that become the source material for this biography. The African Princess' handwriting appears on the end papers of the book. The astonishing circumstances of how a baby girl is freed from a cage in Africa, brought to England, and becomes Queen Victoria's protegee is well-documented.

★★★★★ - lizz

I read this book for the first time when I was maybe 7 years old. My mother brought it home, and I must say I took it all in. I read this book HUNDREDS of times in the 6 years following. I was obsessed with the concept, filled with a billion questions, and horrified yet entranced by the story. The pictures have stuck with me for years, and I'm fairly certain my mother bought me a book because it had one of my favorite things (a princess) combined with culture (I'm African American, adopted by a Caucasian family, so I'm sure she saw the connection there, haha) and while the story was thrilling (she seemed to retain her princessly stature throughout) I thought, "Well isn't it cruel that the one story about an African princess seems to connect with so much strife? But the thing the author forgets to remind us is wonderful is SHE was adopted by the rich and the royal alike. She lost her village, but gained new friends. That's what a princess is all about. Recommended for an avid child reader--it's one that will stick out in their mind. And that's hard to come by when you're a little kid who will read anything.

★★★★★ - Good Samaritan

At Her Majesty is a beautiful story put together by the author. This is another story worth investigating being a Nigerian, and Sara Forbes Kinsman. The story is an indication of what happened in this part of Africa that time, and should be a material for historical research. Sara's life in Queen Victoria's Palace, and how she was rescued from King Gezo of Dahomey is worthy of note. I will make this book a best seller any day.

★★★★☆ - Riss Webb "RLW"

Sarah Forbes Bonetta's story is intriguing. Rescued from death by British soldier when she was only 7 years old, Sarah is given to Queen Victoria as a gift. The Queen takes quite a liking to her and bestows many wonderful gifts on her. The story of Sarah or Sally as she known, takes place in England and Africa. The story is well researched and easy to read. It is interesting to see such a life lived during a period in time when Africans were looked down upon as second class citizens.

★★★★★ - Shawn "picky mom"

My son had to pick two books off of a large list to read over the summer for school. After reading the other reviews of this book, we picked it. It was a wonderful choice. The book was very interesting, fast paced, well written and easy to read. I read it in 3 hours, and my son was able to read in in a few nights without any complaints of boredom.

★★★★★ - Reginald D. Garrard "the G-man"

If any literary giant needs to have his work adapted to film, it is Myers. As one of the premier writers of fiction for juveniles, the author has added another significant piece to his long line of classics. This one tells the story of a little-known African princess who comes under the wing of England's legendary Queen Victoria.

Not only does the book reveal the horrors of the African slave trade, the atrocities that some tyrants inflict on their enemies, and the class system that pervades much of a "civilized" society, it is a marvelous tale of a girl who overcomes such obstacles and becomes the darling of English society.

Although Sarah's life is brief, it is a memorable one as the character grows from frightened child to a loving mother.
I am recommending that all my students read this book as well as others by Myers. Now, if only someone in "Tinsel Town" would discover this fine author.

I'd much rather see his stories on the big screen than any about a teenaged wizard.

★★★☆☆ - Anonymous

I think this is a very well written book. I think that Walter Dean Myers is an amazing writer and that it is great he found this fantastic girl that many have never heard of.

★★★★★ - Anonymous

The book, At Her Majesty's Request was the most wonderful book I've read because it tells the story of how Sarah Bonetta overcomed so many problems. First w/ the horror of watching her parents being killed, and then almost being sacrificed by the slave holders because of who she was and where she lived.Then when she was saved by a white man whom she couldn't even understand becase she spoke a different language.And then soon after that she learned how to speak english and then she became friends w/ the Queen of England, Queen Victoria.So the book to me was very heart-warming and I hope you love the book too! Go Wells Wolverines!

★★★★★ - Anonymous

I like this book it is slow, possibly boring, at frst, but it gets really good, and builds up to a great story in the end.

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