The Little Regent by Yewande Daniel-Ayoade & Ken Daley

Abioye is only eight years old when her father, the king, suddenly dies. As per Yoruba tradition, if the king dies without a son to take his place, his daughter will rule as regent for three months, until the village chiefs can select three men to nominate for kinghood. The villagers will vote on these nominees and select a new leader from among them.

Even with the power of kingmaking in their hands, the chiefs aren’t thrilled at being led, even if only for a short while, by such a young girl. In all honesty, Abioye isn’t herself sure about what she’s supposed to do now. Serious and responsible, she wants to be a good leader, but isn’t sure how. Her mother reminds her of her father’s philosophy: Those who will rule must first learn to serve.

And so Abioye applies herself to watching and listening, so that she can learn how best to serve her people. She quickly discovers that merely sitting in on palace meetings with the chiefs feels less useful than bureaucratic, as they talk about taxes, treaties and other subjects that go over her head. So she begins spending time with her subjects, listening to their concerns and learning what it is they need in order to make their daily lives better. Gradually, she implements improvements that make her subjects happier and more prosperous.

Unsurprisingly, this does not make her any friends among the village chiefs, especially when she overrides their opinions to get the villagers what they need. When the chiefs decide to force her out of her position, will she be able to continue to serve her people?

As thoughtful as Abioye herself, this book is an outstanding look at leadership and responsibility. As it’s aimed at children, there are definitely subjects that are elided (taxes and treaties are important after all!) but overall, the core lessons of humility, listening and acting with purpose are very valuable leadership lessons for the youth. Heck, they’re valuable lessons for anyone with an interest in assuming a leadership position. I did think there was a missed opportunity at the end to further underscore how laws should originate from the governed, given the emphasis near the beginning on the rule of law, but appreciate very much the lessons that this book does impart.

Another one of those lessons is on the importance of feminism, as Abioye is discriminated against not only because of her youth but also because of her sex. Her detractors wish to ignore her good ideas simply because of who she is. As this is a children’s book, she ultimately overcomes the naysayers, an inspiring achievement which author Yewande Daniel-Ayoade likens to the accomplishments of actual women in Yoruba history.

Illustrating all this is the bright, evocative art of Ken Daley. His aren’t the most sophisticated of children’s illustrations, tho his work definitely captures the vibrancy of Yoruba village life and culture. His colorwork is especially arresting, with blues subtly dominating the palette in a way that reflects the seriousness of the story, counterbalancing the reds and yellows that infuse warmth and emotion throughout.

This is a great addition to any child’s library, especially when it comes to inculcating not only lessons in leadership, but also in the folly of discrimination. Super bonus points for highlighting a traditional African culture in the process.

The Little Regent by Yewande Daniel-Ayoade & Ken Daley was published March 12 2024 by Owlkids and is available from all good booksellers, including

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