Throughout this series of articles, I have tried to stress the need for a multi-cultural perspective in our approach to books. I feel that all of us concerned with books, have a responsibility to ensure that the books we make available to children do not offer outdated and biased views but accuracy and a multi-cultural view of the world and the people in it.
I believe that children have the right to a body of literature which truly reflects its whole readership and we are sadly, far from reaching that goal. It is still not possible for all groups to find themselves reflected in and playing strong role models in books. There are still too few children’s books which honestly and positively reflect the Black experience and offer Black children positive role models, a positive self-image and true sense of identity.
In this final article of Lifeline Two, I want to look at anthologies of writing of all kinds which can be used in various ways in the classroom, and which seem to show in a positive fashion, the quality and variety of writing which can exist in a multi-cultural context. It is an area where a great deal has been produced by local community publishers, especially for the upper end of the age range. Much of this writing is by young people who have grown up in our multicultural society and are now writing, both individually and collectively, with great effect and an impressive sense of urgency and authenticity about their lives, their hopes and aspirations. Such work has a valuable place to play in the encouragement of other young people to write for themselves.
There is a lack of material at the lower end of the age range, but I would like to draw attention to several titles reviewed in some detail in previous articles in this series: Mother Goose Comes to Cable Street; Everybody Here; Tinder Box; Mango Spice (Books for Keeps No. 18); The Julian Stories; I’m Trying to Tell You; The Orange Tree; Double Dare; City Summer (Books for Keeps No. 21) and traditional tales and legends (Books for Keeps No. 20).
I Din do Nuttin
John Agard, Bodley Head, 0 370 30459 4, £3.50
A delightfully humorous and original collection of poems for younger children by Guyanese poet, John Agard. Some of the poems are in dialect, others in standard English, but the tone always seems right for the individual poem, whether the setting is England or the West Indies. In these lively, rhythmic poems, John Agard has managed to capture the mixture of mischief, naivety, cruelty, confusion common amongst any group of children. Attractively illustrated with black and white drawings by Susanna Gretz. A must for the lower end of the age group.
Wheel around the World
Chris Searle, compiler, Macdonald, 0 356 09213 5, £4.50
A varied collection of poems chosen to show the common elements yet individual spirits of different countries of the world. A few of the poems are already well known but mainly they are unfamiliar to children here and several are translated by Chris Searle. There are poems from Russia, U.S.A., Ghana, Cuba, Jamaica, Mozambique, Canada and many other countries. Attractively illustrated in black and white and colour by Katinka Kew.
Inky Pinky Ponky: children’s playground rhymes
Michael Rosen and Susanna Steele, Granada, 0 246 11319 7, £4.95
There is a riot of colour and action in the detailed, busy multi-cultural scenes drawn by Dan Jones to accompany this collection of playground rhymes, some familiar, others less so. There are skipping rhymes, jumping rhymes, football chants and lots of nonsense much of which will appeal hugely to the child’s crude sense of humour.
The Black Rose, and other stories
Mal Bell, Affor (173 Lozells Road, Birmingham B19 1RN), 0 907127 07 X, £1.00
Nine very short stories aiming to promote Black awareness and multi-ethnic understanding. They have been written by the Director of a multi-faith organisation in inner-city Birmingham in response to a perceived local need. The stories are somewhat unpolished and predictable but they do fill a gap. The unusual format: oblong, two-columns per page, brown print on cream paper may deter some children but the print is surprisingly clear and easy to read. Disappointing illustrations by Ossie Murray.
For Assembly Use
Assembly Stories from Around the World
William Dargue, Oxford, 0 19 917052 5, £7.95
An excellent and well-researched collection of material for junior and middle school use. The author has retold in simple language, a selection of stories associated with the main festivals of the major world religions. Each story is preceded by notes explaining the historical and cultural background to the festival and how it is celebrated, and followed by a short quotation from the original literature, adapted in simple yet effective language and within the understanding of most children. There is also a calendar indicating (where possible) when each festival takes place. A useful source book for teachers wishing to make assembly more relevant to the multi-cultural society.
Redvers Brandling, Evans, 0 237 29335 8, £4.95
A selection of stories from many different cultures concerning common themes of courage, duty, faith, humour, friendship, and so on and selected as being suitable for school assemblies. There are 102 items, mainly taken from traditional tales and current news items and divided into 6 thematic areas. Unfortunately, some of the stories have been over-simplified, resulting in rather stilted language, and others have a rather tortuous style. But this is an interestingly varied selection and useful starting point, although I suspect that many teachers would have liked a little more guidance from the compiler as to the suggested use and follow-up of some of the stories, as well as more information about the origins of the stories, especially those which appear to have originated from contemporary news reports.
Black Ink Co-operative (258 Coldharbour Lane, London SW9) 2nd edition, 0 9506248 0 2, 90p
A collection of writings by young people aged between 11 and 16 of African, Asian and Caribbean descent, living in South London. Originally published in 1978, this is a new edition produced in co-operation with ILEA Learning Materials Service. The writings drawn from personal experience, and observation are often naive but refreshingly honest.
City Lines: Poems by London School Students
ILEA English Centre (Sutherland Street, London SW1) 0 907016 022 2, £1.50 (ILEA schools £1.00)
These are some of the poems entered for the English Centre poetry competition held in 1981. The poems are all by school children aged between 11 and 18 and the range of subject matter and style is enormous, from concern about the bomb and death to family relationships and mates at school. Some of the poems are accompanied by comments from the individual explaining how he/she came to write that poem. The standard of material is high and the book is attractively produced, using carefully selected black and white photographs to help to interpret the poems.
Ron Heapy and Anne Garside, Oxford English Project for the Caribbean, 0 19 911099 9, £1.65
Ron Heapy and Anne Garside, Oxford English Project for the Caribbean, 0 19 911098 0, £1.35
Two collections of carefully selected prose and poetry, mainly from the Caribbean, including folk tales, folk songs, dialect and calypso and writing by respected Caribbean authors. Both collections have a thematic approach and are attractively illustrated with photos and sketches, some in colour.
As Good As We Make It
Centerprise, (136 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2NS), 0 903738 51 1, £1.80
The second collection of writing by young people in Hackney, many of whom have been members of Centerprise Young Writers Group between 1980 and 1982. Some of the writing is naive but much of it has a compelling intensity and provides a valuable demonstration of what is happening to, and of concern to, young people, whether they are at school, at home, at work or unemployed. Attractively illustrated with black and white photographs taken by local photographers.
Black Lives, White Worlds
Keith Ajegbo, Cambridge University Press, 0 521 28463 5, £1.75
A sensitive and skilfully annotated selection of extracts from twentieth century Black American writing, suitable for 3rd/4th year secondary children. The careful ordering of extracts gives a sense of developing and unfinished history to different facets of Black American experience through to the militant voices of the 1960’s and 1970’s, showing the relationship of Black people to white society and providing a record of changing Black consciousness.
I See a Voice
Compiled by Michael Rosen, Hutchinson, 0 09 146861 2, £2.00
A poetry course for secondary school students, compiled by Michael Rosen to accompany Thames Television’s The English Programme poetry units. It takes a refreshingly wide-ranging view in an attempt to show the relevance of poetry to today’s teenagers and to stimulate them to both analyse poetry and write it for themselves. The inclusion of poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Edward Brathwaite and Gouveia de Lemos shows a progressive multi-cultural awareness.
Our Lives: Young People’s Autobiographies
ILEA English Centre, 0 907016 00 6, £2.00 (ILEA schools £1.50)
A powerful collection of writings by young people, mostly by children of immigrant families, reflecting the upheavals and adjustments their families may have experienced and the experience of being black in a white society. Some of the stories are quite demanding but this is the authentic voice of the young and many young people will respond positively to this. Useful reading for teachers, too.
East End at Your Feet
Macmillan Topliner, 0 333 19962 6, 95p
Come to Mecca
Collins, 0 00 184134 3, £4.95 Fontana Lion, 0 00 671519 2, £1.00
Gollancz, 0 575 03193 X, £5.95 All by Farrukh Dhondy
East End at Your Feet and Come to Mecca are two hard-hitting, but very readable collections of stories about teenagers living in London today and reflecting the tensions faced by many teenagers in inner-city areas: racial harassment, unemployment, homelessness. Farrukh Dhondy has the ability to make the stories equally credible whether he is writing about Black, Asian or white kids and he demonstrates a deep understanding about the way individual teenagers really feel and react. His latest collection, Trip Trap is much less direct and accessible. The stories demonstrate the fine quality of his recent writing and have an attractive obliqueness which sophisticated readers will enjoy but will prove difficult for many of the teenagers who revelled in the first two titles.
A Taste of Freedom
Longman Knockouts, 0 582 25052 8, £3.75 (hb), 0 582 20128 4, 95p (pb)
Long Journey Home
Longman Knockouts, 0 582 22277 X, £1.05
Both by Julius Lester
Julius Lester’s stories of slavery have an overwhelming intensity of feeling in their often understated but undeniably moving accounts of the bravery, dogged tenacity and inner spirit of slaves in the Southern states of America. The stories are all viewed from the points of view of the slaves themselves, taken from contemporary sources and are all the more powerful for that. Julius Lester’s writing is direct and powerful and offers us a dramatic account of this part of Black history.
A Sense of Shame
Jan Needle, Deutsch, 0 233 97266 8, £4.50. Fontana Lion, 0 00 671901 5, £ 1.00
An uncompromising and powerfully written collection of short stories for teenagers about different types of prejudice, and men and women, young and old, Black and white who are guilty of, or may be victims, of prejudice. The stories are thought-provoking and often disturbing and have a great deal to say to teenagers about the complexities and confusions of life today.