Six children's books with brilliant Black characters

Published on: 17 January 2023

Author and poet Patience Agbabi shares her favourite books for children aged eight and above that star brilliant Black characters.

Illustration from Onyeka and the Academy of the SunIllustration from Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu 

Onyeka’s hair takes on a life of its own when she experiences extreme emotions. She travels to Nigeria to find her missing father. When her mum leaves her at the strange Lagos-based Solari Academy, Onyeka learns more about herself and the superpowers of the other boarders.

An innovative take on the significance of hair for young black women, readers will relate to Onyeka’s struggles, love meeting her talented new friends and enjoy the vision of a near-future, technologically advanced Nigeria. I look forward to seeing it on Netflix! 

High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

Sisters Nik and Norva discover a dead body on their estate and set out to find the killer.

Brilliantly written in punchy, streetwise sentences, this is a fun whodunnit, with sharp characterisation and wit. I loved the contrast between the sisters: Nik, 11, is ‘science-led with a shaved head’; Norva, 13, has ‘Long braids, short temper.’ Fabulous!

Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore

Simi is cross when she has to leave the city of Lagos to stay with her witchlike grandmother in rural Nigeria. But she soon begins to uncover a family secret when she discovers a forbidden lake.

Her new friendship with a boy, Jide, is nuanced and well-handled, the book is lusciously evocative of Nigerian village life, full of myth and spirituality, and the spookiness of the magical realism will thrill young readers.

Illustration from When Life Gives You MangoesIllustration from When Life Gives You Mangoes

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten

Clara is prone to temper tantrums and can’t remember anything about the previous summer. When a new girl, Rudy, arrives from England at their Caribbean coastal village, Sycamore, their friendship helps unravel Clara’s emotional history.

Place and community are vividly depicted which will delight young readers. I loved the backstory of the enigmatic, estranged uncle Eldorath and the complex family dynamics steeped in rumour and superstition. But most of all, Clara’s fully-rounded character and the final revelation about her is an ambitious and delicately handled take on grief.  

The Elemental Detectives by Patrice Lawrence

It’s 18th century London and elemental spirits of the earth, fire, air and water begin to stir. Londoners are succumbing to a strange sleeping sickness; it’s up to Marisee and Robert to discover what’s really going on in this magical adventure.

An eerie, visceral and historically accurate reimagining of 18th century London which takes on poverty, slavery and environmental pollution head on. Marisee and Robert make a great pair of sleuths; she is brave; he asks questions. Read this for deep insights into family, friendship and community.

Illustration from The Elemental DetectivesIllustration from The Elemental Detectives

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor 

Sunny lives in Nigeria and is albino so her skin is too sensitive for her to play outside in the sun. She feels as if she cannot fit in but then discovers she has magical powers. She and her friends are recruited to track down an evil criminal who has magical powers too.

Akata Witch is a cinematic, visual treat, totally transporting, bursting with magical flourishes on every page. Readers will fall in love with a Nigeria reinvented via fantasy and cheer on Sunny and her friends as they overcome each astonishing obstacle. This is for slightly older readers.

Circle Breakers by Patience Agbabi is out now. 

BookTrust Represents

BookTrust Represents has been created to promote and improve the representation of people of colour in children’s books.

It is important that all children have the opportunity to read a diverse range of books where they and their communities are represented.

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