Stories that celebrate Black culture

Published on: 12 December 2023

Yaba Badoe and Joelle Avelino, author and illustrator of Man-Man and the Tree of Memories, recommend brilliant Black stories. 

We at BookTrust know that stories about Black characters are not just for Black History Month. We asked Yaba Badoe and Joelle Avelino to share some favourite stories that celebrate Black culture.  

Yaba Badoe’s picks: 

  1. A Nest of Vipers by Catherine Johnson 

A rollicking tale about a family of scam artists in eighteenth-century London. The narration of Cato Hopkins, the youngest of Mother Hopkin’s disreputable brood, tops and tails the novel, which begins with Cato in prison. What unfolds is a spellbinding story of survival in which race, and riches acquired through slavery, are central. This is an absorbing page-turner that showcasesthe Black presence in London as never before. I loved it! 

  1. Our Story Starts in Africa by Patrice Lawrence, illustrated by Jeanetta Gonzales 

When Paloma goes to visit her family in Trinidad, she doesn’t feel that she fits in. But Tante Janet has a story to tell her: an ancient story of warrior queens and talking drums, of treasures and tales that span thousands of years… a story that Paloma shares in because her story starts in Africa too. Stories which explore connections between Africa and the Caribbean have always fascinated me. This one certainly did. 

  1. John Agard’s Windrush Child, illustrated by Sophie Bass 

A beautifully evocative story of a child’s journey to England on board Empire Windrush. With one last hug Windrush child waves goodbye to his Caribbean home and sets sail to England. This powerful picture book, boldly illustrated by Sophie Bass, describes the journey made by children and their families as part of the Windrush Generation.It’s a story full of hope and promise. 

  1. One Chance Dance by Efua Traore 

What could be more hopeful and riveting than a TV dance competition with a pet bushbaby and a group of determined street children? One Chance Dancerecounts the adventures and misadventures of Jomi as he tries to locate his missing mother in the bustling city of dreams: Lagos, Nigeria. I was swept away by descriptions of life hustling on the street and the exuberance of Jomi and his friends as they learn to trust each other and dance as a team. 

  1. In Our Hands written and illustrated by Lucy Farfort 

When the world is plagued by isolation and cursed to live without colour, it’s up to a group of determined children to grow a seed of hope that will inspire everyone to come together and build a better future.I read Lucy Farfort’s inspiring modern-day fable as a judge of this year’s Jhalak prize. I loved its message of hope that no matter how small you think you are, by working together, each of us can make a difference. A brilliant debut picture book. 

  1. Man-man and the Tree of Memories by Yaba Badoe, illustrated by Joelle Avelino  

A story of dance, celebration, magic and liberty, illustrated throughout in vibrant full colour by Joelle Avelino.Young Man-man’s mother is ill, and he desperately wants to help her.His adventure begins by dancing in a modern-day Notting Hill Carnival, but Man-man is soon transported to the shores of Africa by the mysterious Queen of Revels where she shows him the sacred Tree of Memories. Here he sees the anguish and dreams of his ancestors.Can understanding the past help change the future? 

Joelle Avelino’s Picks: 

  1. Daddy Do My Hair, Beth’s Twists by Tolá Okogwu, illustrated by Chanté Timothy 

A joyful rhyming text that celebrates Afro hair and a father and daughter relationship, beautifully captured by Chanté. 

  1. The Story of Afro Hair by K.N Chimbiri, illustrated by Joelle Avelino

The story celebrates the fashion and styles of Afro hair over the last 5,000 yearshighlighting many of the pioneers that contributed to the culture. I discovered so much about the incredible history of Afro hair whilst illustrating this book. 

  1. The Missing Piece by Jordan Stephens, illustrated by Beth Suzanna 

A heart-warming story that celebrates family and friendship, beautifully illustrated by Beth Suzanna. I was particularly drawn to Beth’s bold and warm illustrations that really capture the essence of the story.  

  1. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodsonillustrated by Rafael Lopez 

A powerful, lyrical picture book that reminds us about familiar moments when we might feel like an outsider among peers. Reminding us we are all different yet so similar in many ways.With heartfelt illustrations by Rafael Lopez. 

  1. Skin Like Mine by LaTashia Perry,illustrated by Bea Jackson 

A very poetic, creative and entertaining way to celebrate and speak about diversity among young children. This story made me smile.  

Man-man and the Tree of Memories written by Yaba Badoe and illustrated by Joelle Avelino, is out now. 

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