In a seasonal special in the Beyond the Secret Garden series, Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor find presents for everyone.
Writing the Daily Mail’s ‘Children’s Books for Christmas’ column in 1991, the author Penelope Lively suggested that ‘A book is the most permanent present you can give. Particularly for a child.’ While many end-of-year booklists have become more inclusive November and December remain the biggest time of the year for the promotion and sales of children’s books because of holiday gift-giving. And according to R M Egan writing in The Bookseller, 2020, particularly, is ‘an extraordinary time for readers’ with record numbers of books being published in the period between September and December. So, if you are gift-giving for any reason, or refreshing your school, classroom or home library, here are some suggestions that stem from and update our columns from the past year. And, of course, there are several more recommendations for good books for children in those columns, so feel free to look back over our year’s output!
Classics are always popular gifts for adults to give to children, but as our column from March 2020 suggests, well-meaning gifts of ‘classic’ children’s literature can unwittingly reinforce stereotypes about or erase people of colour. This year, revisionist fairy tales are a good bet for those wanting to give a classic. From Vintage Random House comes two books in their new Fairy Tale Revolution series by authors of colour: Blueblood, a retelling of the ‘Bluebeard’ story by Malorie Blackman, and Kamila Shamsie’s Duckling which revises Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Ugly Duckling’. Both of these are available in gift editions with illustrations by Laura Barrett. Younger readers will enjoy Zombierella, Joseph Coelho’s gothic take on the classic fairy tale whilst for older readers, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron from Bloomsbury publishing will provide that link to the classics while at the same time providing empowerment for readers—especially those traditionally left out of or sidelined in classic texts. Fans of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are likely to enjoy The Challenger by Taran Matharu (Hodder). Set ‘in a world far from our own where enemies come in many forms’, this is the second book in an epic trilogy from the New York Times best-selling author. Aisha Bushby’s Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found (Egmont) features twelve-year-old Amira in a magical middle grade adventure inspired by The Arabian Nights.
Hoorah for Health Workers
In May, as the pandemic worsened, we focused on books depicting racially minoritised health workers. If you want to buy a book that helps those who have been helping us through the pandemic AND that showcases some of the best writers of colour for children, Katharine Rundell’s edited collection A Book of Hopes (Bloomsbury) is a good bet. In a hardback gift edition with part of the proceeds going to NHS charities and with work by authors such as Patience Agbabi, Vashti Hardi, Onjali Q Raùf, S F Said, Nizrana Farook, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Sita Brahmachari, Polly Ho-Yen, Aisha Bushby and Alex Wheatle, there is something to please both readers and gift-givers. Thank You (Frances Lincoln) with words by Joseph Coelho and pictures by Sam Usher is a beautiful picture-book that celebrates community and was inspired by the Thursday Clap for Carers during the first coronavirus lockdown in the Summer of 2020.
In addition to all the books we plugged in our July 2020 column about authors of colour coping with lockdown and the coronavirus, some additional books have appeared (or will appear before the end of the year) from the authors we featured. These include a lovely book for younger readers welcoming a new addition to the family, Chitra Soundar’s Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister (Walker), illustrated by Jen Khatun, and Patrice Lawrence’s Rat (Oxford) for older readers.
The Other Side of the Story
In September we explored the increase in children’s historical books particularly those authored by writers of colour. A number of books have been published in the last few months which highlight British history from a Black British perspective. In addition to David Olusoga’s young reader edition of his popular and important history, Black and British (Macmillan), two reissues indicate the increasing interest in Black history in a year when racism has been on the increase. K. N. Chimbiri’s The Story of the Windrush, originally published by Golden Destiny in 2018, has been picked up by Scholastic; and Hakim Adi’s The History of African and Caribbean Communities in Britain has been reissued six years after its original publication by Hachette. Floella Benjamin’s Coming to England has appeared in a picture book version with illustrations by Diane Ewen (Macmillan), and Benjamin Zephaniah offers a fictional account of a Windrush journey in Windrush Child from Scholastic. On the subject of history, in Journeys: The Story of Migration to Britain (Rising Stars) Dan Lyndon-Cohen deftly covers 1066 to the present day in a clear, highly informative and engaging style.
Other highly recommended books from 2020 include When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten (Pushkin) an intriguing tale of friendship set in Jamaica and that also subtly explores the relationship between Britain and the Caribbean. A.M. Dassau’s Boy Everywhere (Old Barn Books) in which Sami, a ‘typical 13 -year-old’ has to flee Damascus and travels to Britain. Written over five years, Dassau’s meticulous research ensures this tales is one of hopeful realism. Exploring hopefulness in uncertain times, Smriti Prasadam Halls and David Lichfield combine in Rain Before Rainbows, a powerful picture book for younger readers. This year’s Little Rebels Prize winner, The Boy Who Loved Everyone written by Jane Porter and illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearring, is a quietly radical picture book, set in a diverse nursery school setting.
In Beyond the Secret Garden we have tended to focus on books authored by writers based in the UK. However, we’d like to round off the year with some excellent books from beyond these shores. A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi (Quill Tree) is a middle grade tale of friendship across class and national identities between two girls, one Pakistani one American, that takes place in Karachi. Set in Southern California, Efren Divided (Quill Tree) by Ernesto Cisneros, depicts Efren who is American-born with parents who are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusuf Salaam (Harper Collins) is a powerful YA novel in verse about a Black, Muslim teen wrongfully sentenced to prison in the USA. Salaam is one of the Exonerated Five (previously known as the Central Park Five) who were the subject of the Netflix series When They See Us.
Karen Sands-O’Connor is the British Academy Global Professor for Children’s Literature at Newcastle University. Her books include Children’s Publishing and Black Britain 1965-2015 (Palgrave Macmillan 2017).
Darren Chetty is a teacher, doctoral researcher and writer with research interests in education, philosophy, racism, children’s literature and hip hop culture. He is a contributor to The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla and the author, with Jeffrey Boakye, of What Is Masculinity? Why Does It Matter? And Other Big Questions. He tweets at @rapclassroom.
Blueblood: A Fairy Tale Revolution, Malorie Blackman, illus Laura Barrett, Vintage Children’s Classic, 978-1784876418, £12.99 hbk
Duckling: A Fairy Tale Revolution Duckling, Kamila Shamsie, illus Laura Barrett, Vintage Children’s Classic, 978-1784876319, £12.99 hbk
Zombierella, Joseph Coelho, illus Freya Hartas, Walker Books, 978-1406389661, £7.99 pbk
The Challenger, Taran Matharu, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444938999, £12.99 hbk
Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found, Aisha Bushby, Egmont, 978-1405293211, £6.99 pbk
A Book of Hopes, edited Katherine Rundell, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1526629883, £12.99 hbk
Thank You, Joseph Coelho, illus Sam Usher, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 978-0711262034, £6.99 pbk
Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister, Chitra Soundar, illus Jen Khatun, Walker Books, 978-1406391756, £5.99 pbk
Black and British, David Olusoga, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529063394, £6.99 pbk
The Story of the Windrush, K. N. Chimbiri, Scholastic, 978-0702307133, £6.99 pbk
The History of African and Caribbean Communities in Britain, Hakim Adi, Wayland, 978-1526317971, £8.99 pbk
Coming to England, Floella Benjamin, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529009415, £12.99 hbk
Windrush Child, Benjamin Zephaniah, Scholastic, 978-0702302725, £6.99 pbk
Journeys: The Story of Migration to Britain, Dan Lyndon-Cohen, Rising Stars, 978-1510452381, £7.50
When Life Gives You Mangoes, Kereen Getten, Pushkin Press, 978-1782692645, £7.99 pbk
Boy Everywhere, A. M. Dassu, Old Barn Books, 978-1910646649, £7.99 pbk
Rain Before Rainbows, Smriti Halls, illus David Litchfield, Walker Books, 978-1406382358, £12.99 hbk
The Boy Who Loved Everyone, Jane Porter, illus Maisie Paradise Shearring, Walker Books, 978-1406392876, £7.99 pbk
A Thousand Questions, Saadia Faruqi, Quill Tree Books, 978-0062943200, £12.99 hbk
Efrén Divided, Ernesto Cisneros, Quill Tree Books, 978-0062881687, £13.99 hbk
Punching the Air, Ibi Zoboi and Yusuf Salaam, Harper Collins Children’s Books, 978-0008422141, £7.99 pbk