Nine essential books on Black British history

Published on: 23 August 2021

Musical Truth author Jeffrey Boakye shares nine essential books for children learning about Black British history.

Black and British: A Short, Essential History by David Olusoga

This children’s version of Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History, provides an accessible but sophisticated introduction to the rich history of black communities in Britain. The learning opportunities are vast and varied, with a depth of information that sheds much-needed light upon marginalised narratives.

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Coming to England by Floella Benjamin, illustrated by Michael Frith

Written and illustrated for young children, this is a beautiful and poignant book detailing the experiences of Floella herself, as she came to Britain from Trinidad in 1948. Readers will find a friend in these pages, learning much about what it was like to enter a new, often intimidating, world and make a truly astonishing journey. All power to Floella Benjamin, a national treasure with a story we can all celebrate.

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Coming to England: An Inspiring True Story Celebrating the Windrush Generation by Floella Benjamin, illustrated by Diane Ewen

Our very youngest readers need to be exposed to a full spectrum of stories from different cultures. This picture book adaptation of Coming to England is an autobiographical account of Floella’s journey, explaining in simple but powerful detail how she and her family managed to make Britain their home. An important book that will introduce the realities (and struggles) of the black experience to a new generation of readers.

Read the blog: Floella Benjamin on turning Coming to England into a picture book

Illustration from Coming to England by Floella Benjamin and Diane EwenIllustration: Diane Ewen

So Much by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

I love this book. It evokes a real sense of what it felt like growing up black and British in the 1990s. Full of character, life and unwavering joy, this is a subtle nod to a black experience that is very much under-represented in children’s publishing, aimed at a picture book audience but certain to delight older readers along the way.

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Africa, Amazing Africa: Country by Country by Atinuke, illustrated by Mouni Feddag

A book for kids that we can all learn so much from. We’re still living at a time when Africa is often referred to as one place, home to one people, so a book that celebrates the varied textures of Africa as a group of unique countries, is very welcome. Short, illustrated chapters open the door to worlds of art, history, food, music, architecture, sport and much more, proving just how amazing Africa really is.

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Mixed by Arree Chung

A lot of adults, out of fear or uncertainty, feel unable to enter into conversations surrounding race inequality with children. Books like Mixed offer a wonderful way in. With seeming simplicity, this allegory about the segregation and eventual mixing of different colours opens a much needed debate on difference and equality. It also celebrates the differences between us all: a much needed sentiment for our times.

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Perfect Fit by Naomi Jones

We’re all different. We all sometimes don’t fit. For some, more than others. This accessible, fun picture book tells a story about how being different doesn’t mean we can’t find a place in society. Once again, an excellent primer for conversations surrounding diversity and difference, pitched perfectly for young, curious minds.

Illustration from This Book is Anti Racist by Tiffany Jewell and Aurelia DurandIllustration: Aurelia Durand

The History Of The African & Caribbean Communities In Britain by Hakim Adi

A now classic historical text book introducing and detailing the various histories of black communities in Britain, to date. Hakim Adi writes with authority and deep knowledge, exploring black history via facts, dates, narratives and a chronology of information that is often overlooked in mainstream education.

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action, and do the work by Tiffany Jewel, illustrated by Aurelia Durand

For older children, this is a book that will lead the way in the conversation for change. Tiffany Jewel offers insights and advice as to how to create an anti-racist world: starting from within. This is an important book that can be a true companion in the era of Black Lives Matter, with practical guidance and galvanising inspiration in equal measure.

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Jeffrey Boakye is the author of Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs, illustrated by Ngadi Smart. Published by Faber Children’s. Follow Jeffrey on Twitter.

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