Trish Cooke on 10 diverse books that are total classics

Published on: 19 March 2018 Author: Trish Cooke

Writer and former Playdays presenter Trish Cooke looks back on the books that played an important role for her children, as they grew up up in the 90s – and why they're just as brilliant today. 

My eldest son was born in 1989 and many of these books were the ones we enjoyed together when he was very young.

Unfortunately, there weren’t that many diverse books for young children back then, but this is a reminder of some of the great books that younger parents may have forgotten or never heard about.

1. Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury

Walker Books

A first book for babies that shows babies at play. This book is one of Helen Oxenbury’s board books and along with All Fall Down, it was read over and over again to my son when he was a baby. It’s a very physical book with babies clapping hands, jumping and playing. You can have lots of interaction with your little one as you read it. Helen Oxenbury’s bold illustrations show babies from different ethnicities and this was a big plus for me. The books are made from tough cardboard and thus very practical for young babies to enjoy.

Why Helen Oxenbury won our Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018

2. Wait and See by Tony Bradman, illustrated by Eileen Browne

Frances Lincoln Children's Books

This is another book I read over and over to my son many years ago. While Dad stays home to prepare lunch, Jo, a little mixed race girl, goes shopping with her mum – but we have to wait and see what she will spend her money on as we go with her on her shopping trip. Set in a multicultural community, Eileen Browne’s bright and colourful illustrations show off the shopping trip magnificently.

Read our book review of Wait and See

3. But Martin by June Counsel, illustrated by Carolyn Dinan

Picture Corgi

This book is about as diverse as you can get, with an alien as the main character. Four children, all with different ethnicities and different talents, discover a clever alien called Martin who helps them with their mental arithmetic and spelling. The book is simple and fun with a matter-of-fact tone and sharp, to-the-point drawings.

4. Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

Greenwillow Books

A fantastic bedtime book for those learning to count to ten. As Dad gets his little girl ready for bed, they observe the familiar things in the bedroom and count down from ten. A cosy end to the day.

5. Afro-bets 1-2-3 and Afro-bets ABC by Cheryl Willis Hudson

Just Us Books

Inclusion and positive self-esteem in early reading is promoted in these fun, educational books. They are great for learning numbers and the alphabet. I particularly like the way the books use humour in the images with black children to create the number shapes and the letters in the alphabet.

6. A Year in The City by Kathy Henderson, illustrated by Paul Howard 

Walker Books

A two-page spread for every day of the month, with words and pictures detailing the buzz that happens in the city during each month of the year. There are full-page illustrations of busy-ness, with much humour. Paul Howard cleverly captures moments in time, emphasising the diverse cultural mix in the city. There is so much going on and this book can be read over and over, with something new to spot every time you look at it. 

7. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch

Frances Lincoln Children's Books

This is a book about a little girl called Grace who loves stories and enjoys playing all the characters in her books. She is excited when she finds out that the school show will be Peter Pan. She wants to play Peter Pan. However, Grace’s peers at school tell her that she won’t be able to play Peter Pan in the school play because Peter Pan is not a girl and he is not black. Encouraged by her nana and her mum, Grace proves that she can do anything she wants when she puts her mind to it. A fabulous. self-empowering book with wonderfully detailed, lifelike illustrations by Caroline Binch.

Read our book review of Amazing Grace

8. Fruits: A Caribbean Counting Poem by Valerie Bloom, illustrated by David Axtell

Macmillan Children's Books

Set in the Caribbean and written in Jamaican dialect, we follow a young girl and her sister as they find and eat ten different types of fruit. By the end of the book, the children can eat no more. This book introduces children to some familiar and exotic tropical fruits. Axtell's paintings are bright and colourful and capture the warmth of the Caribbean superbly.

Read our book review of Fruits

9. A Caribbean Dozen: Poems from Caribbean Poets, edited by John Agard and Grace Nichols

Walker Books

This is a fabulous collection of more than 50 poems by Caribbean writers, such as Valerie Bloom, Faustin Charles, Telcine Turner, David Campbell, Opal Palmer Adisa, Marc Matthews. Dionne Brand, Pamela Mordecai, John Lyons, Frank Collymore, James Berry, Grace Nichols and John Agard. The book also has a photo and background information on each writer. The poems are great to read out loud. It allows the reader (and the listener) to play with rhythms in language.

10. So Much by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Walker Books

And of course I have to include my very own So Much. Because of the lack of books (in the 80s) with black families in them, I decided to write stories for my baby son. So Much is about a baby and the relationships he has with his extended family when they come to visit. Beautifully illustrated in bold colours by Helen Oxenbury, this book has plenty of room for participation, with fun sounds and actions as families read along.

Read our book review of So Much

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Lifetime Achievement Award

2018 winners: Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham

Learn more about our award, which we give every year for outstanding achievement in children's literature.

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