Diverse voices

One more list, and then I’ll be done. (Or possibly not. You never know.) Seven Stories and the Guardian have got together and listed the 50 best children’s books on cultural and ethnic diversity. It’s a really good list,

and I was really pleased because I felt I had read so many of the books on it. Until I counted them and it was about a third, so maybe I have some way to go. I still like the list, though:

Amazing Grace Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The classic picture book about the little girl who loves stories and shows us that we can be anything we want to be.

Fruits: A Caribbean Counting Poem, Valerie Bloom Illustrated by David Axtell. Macmillan Children’s Books. A rhythmic counting poem that describes all manner of delicious Caribbean fruits as a little girl tries to eat as many of these as she can in a single day.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, The Goggle-Eyed Goats

The Goggle-Eyed Goats, Stephen Davies Illustrated by Christopher Corr. Andersen Press. A vibrant and colourfully illustrated tale about Old Al Haji Amadu’s five extremely naughty and very hungry goats who gobble and gulp through whatever they find.

Handa’s Surprise, Eileen Browne. Walker Books. A mouth-watering story about Ayeko who puts seven fruits into her basket, but one by one these disappear as all manner of creatures snack upon them.

Hue Boy, Rita Phillips Mitchell Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books As much as Hue Boy longs to be bigger, he discovers size isn’t everything in this uplifting village-based story about a small boy with a very big personality.

Leon and Bob, Simon James. Walker Books. A quiet reflective book about the unusual friendship shared by Leon and Bob and the sense of fun and fulfilment others can bring into our lives.

Not So Fast Songololo, Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
An African town is brought to life through sight and sound in this touching story of young and old where Grandmother Gogo and grandson Songololo set out on a stroll together.

Over the Hills and Far Away, Elizabeth Hammill Illustrated by 77 artists. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A stunning collection of 150 rhymes from countries all over the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the Caribbean compiled by Seven Stories co-founder Elizabeth Hammill. The collection contains best-loved nursery rhymes, but also new discoveries, and vibrant rhymes from Native American, First Nation, Inuit and Maori cultures.

Ramadan Moon, Na’ima B. Robert Illustrated by Shirin Adl. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books The festival of Ramadan and its celebration across the world is explored in this thoughtful book which looks at the role faith plays in many children’s lives.

Rastamouse and the Crucial Plan, Michael De Souza Illustrated by Genevieve Webster. Little Roots. A cheeky, cheese-filled tale about super bad thief Bandalulu who has stolen all the cheese from Mouseland.

So Much, Trish Cooke Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury Walker Books. A fun, feel-good and familiar story about the different generations of a family brought together by their love for a new baby.

Where’s Lenny? Ken Wilson-Max Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. An ideal first picture book by an award winning author/illustrator in which Lenny and his dad have a game of hide and seek in the house, enjoying fun and games together.

Azzi In Between, Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A powerful graphic novel about Azzi and her family who seek refuge, filled with drama and tension it shows just how dangerous some people’s home lives can be and the difficult decisions needed to reach a place of safety.

Betsey Biggalow is here, Malorie Blackman Illustrated by Jamie Smith. Random House Children’s Books. Somewhere between Pippi Longstocking and Tracy Beaker, Betsey Biggalow, who stars in these short, pacey stories, is an imaginative and enquiring girl who is sometimes mischievous but always endearing.

The Colour of Home, Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Karin Littlewood. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. Hassan feels out of place in a cold, grey country so different from his colourful Somalian home, which he was forced to leave because of war. But gradually things change… and he sees the new colours of home.

Fly, Eagle, Fly! Christopher Gregorowski Illustrated by Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A story of fulfilment and freedom shown through the parable of the baby eagle who is reared with chickens. This simply told yet dramatic story from Africa will delight children everywhere and encourage them to “lift off and soar,” as Archbishop Tutu puts it in his foreword.

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe

A Hen in the Wardrobe, Wendy Meddour. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
This is a funny, heart-warming family story set in Britain and Algeria, with fascinating glimpses of traditional Berber culture and lots of colourful characters.

Kasia’s Surprise, Stella Gurney Illustrated by Petr Horacek. Walker Books. A moving and hope-filled book about Kasia and her mum who have moved to the UK from Poland, it looks at the importance of the people we are close to and the gradual acceptance of change.

Mirror, Jeannie Baker. Walker Books. Although thousands of miles apart, there are many similarities between the homes and daily routines for the two boys in this book, its minutely detailed illustrations inspire readers to see that, in spite of surface difference, there is often more similarity in our lives than might, at first, be recognised.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe. Puffin Children’s Books. This special book has a fairy-tale like charm as a King takes on the search for a wife. Mufaro has two daughters, one rude and mean and the other generous and thoughtful, which will win the hand of the King?

Number 1 Car Spotter, Atinuke. Walker Books. A witty story about the hugely appealing Number 1 who sets about searching for and solving problems and carrying out chores for his family.

Under the Moon and Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, ed John Agard and Grace Nichols. Walker Books. A lyrical and lively collection of poetry that captures the sights, sounds, tastes and tales of the Caribbean and its people.

Walter Tull’s Scrap Book, Michaela Morgan. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The inspirational true story of Walter Tull’s life is vividly reimagined here in scrapbook form, drawing on photographs, documents and records of his life. Born in Kent, in 1888, Walter Tull became not just the first black British professional outfield football player – for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town – but also the first black officer in the British Army.

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzman. Puffin Children’s Books. Jamal and sister Bibi want to lead Australia to victory in the World Cup, but that entails a journey from their homeland, Afghanistan where their family has upset the authorities, and a lengthy voyage overseas.

The Island, Armin Greder. Allen & Unwin Books for Children & Young Adults. The poignancy of the pictures in this story about a man washed up on an island beach and outcast by its community explores intolerance and is a powerful and moving conversation starter for discussions around acceptance.

Journey to Jo’Burg, Beverley Naidoo. Macmillan Children’s Books. A deeply affecting modern classic about a brother and sister who journey through the South Africa of Apartheid in a race against time to find their mother thereby saving their poorly baby sister, Dineo.

The Life of Stephen Lawrence, Verna Allette Wilkins Illustrated by Lynne Willey. Tamarind. Full of life and potential, Stephen Lawrence was a boy with huge hopes for the future. Murdered in 1993, the book looks at prejudice, injustice and a family’s fight to uncover the truth.

Little Leap Forward, Guo You Illustrated by Clare Farrow. Barefoot Books. This semi-autobiographical tale looks at Little Leap Forward, a boy who grew up in the hutongs of Beijing during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Oranges in No Man’s Land, Elizabeth Laird. Macmillan Children’s Books.
Ayesha lives in war-torn Beirut, a city divided by conflict. When Ayesha’s granny falls ill, she must cross the barricades into deadly no-man’s land to try to get the medication that is so badly needed.

A Nest of Vipers, Catherine Johnson. Random House Children’s Books. The youngest member of a collective of pick pockets and con-artists in 18 Century London, Cato Hopkins appears at risk of paying penance for his crimes with his life…

Talking Turkeys , Benjamin Zephaniah. Puffin Children’s Books.
A thought provoking and wide reaching collection of poetry for children that explodes from the page, begging to be read aloud.

Tall Story, Candy Gourlay. David Fickling Books. Quirky, unusual and filled with affectionate humour, this story looks at the relationship between Andi, who is short, and her long lost, enormous half-brother Bernardo who comes to live in London from the Philippines.

Too Much Trouble, Tom Avery. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A fast-paced read about brothers Em and Prince who struggle to make a life and home for themselves on the streets of London. Winner of the Diverse Voices award 2010.

Trash, Andy Mulligan. David Fickling Books. Raphael is a dumpsite boy whose days are spent sifting through rubbish and whose nights are spent sleeping beside it. This deeply affecting story tells how one fateful moment – the discovery of a small leather bag – can radically change one’s fortunes…

The Trouble with Donovan Croft, Bernard Ashley. Oxford University Press. Children’s Books Keith’s new foster brother, Donovan, won’t speak to anybody, will Keith be able to uncover the reasons why and help Donovan to open up?

The Unforgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce. Walker Books. This acutely perceptive, gem of a book recounts how Julie tries to help two Mongolian refugees who are struggling to fit in with their new classmates in Liverpool and movingly describes why their friendship ended unexpectedly…

Jamila Gavin, The Wheel of Surya

The Wheel of Surya, Jamila Gavin. Egmont. The violence and danger of India during the Independence movement and its partition from Pakistan acts a catalyst for Jaspal and Marvinder to flee from their village in an effort to reunite with their father who is a student in England.

Apache, Tanya Landman. Walker Books. Following the vicious murder of her brother, orphan Siki vows to become an Apache warrior to take revenge upon her brother, Tazhi’s, killers.

The Arrival, Shaun Tan. Hodder Children’s Books. This wordless graphic novel explores the many reasons that lead people to leave their old lives and homes behind and set out upon the journey entailed in starting afresh.

Artichoke Hearts, Sita Brahmachari. Macmillan Children’s Books. Aged twelve, Mira’s life changes when her Nana Josie becomes ill and Mira begins to learn about the secrets of her family and loved ones in this emotionally honest novel.

Blood Donors, Steve Tasane. Walker Books. A skin-crawling novel about Marshall O’Connor who lives in the ‘Finger’ a block of flats with a deep, dark and deadly secret. This distinctive, fresh and decidedly creepy novel explores stigma and prejudice.

The Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis. Oxford University Press Children’s Books.
Kept house-bound by the Taliban’s law that women and girls should not leave the house on their own, Parvana, her mother and sisters are in danger of starvation when their father is arrested.

Half-Caste & Other Poems, John Agard. Hodder Children’s Books. The poems in this highly original collection, penned by John Agard uncover a wealth of human experience and on differences in race.

Moonfleece, Philip Ridley. Methuen. A playscript that explores the tensions between two groups of teenagers who come to learn the way party politics influence the everyday lives of individuals and the devastating impact this can have.

Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman. Random House Children’s Books. Sephy and Callum live in a world of split communities and civil unrest, can their feelings for one another grow and blossom against this backdrop and what will occur if those feelings are discovered?

Palestine, Joe Sacco. Jonathan Cape. An extraordinary piece of current affairs reportage told in graphic novel form and recounting the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Persepolis 1 & 2, Marjane Satrapi. Vintage. This eye-opening graphic novel about author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Tehran uncovers the way a country’s politics, religion, history and traditions, influence a sense of identity.

Refugee Boy, Benjamin Zephaniah. Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Thrilled to have left his home country of Ethiopia for the first time, Alem is excited to be spending a holiday with his father in London. Happiness turns to despair when he discovers his father has left him alone in an unfamiliar country…

(Un)arranged Marriage, Bali Rai. Random House Children’s Books. This highly personal story was partly influenced by Bali Rai’s own experiences, it looks at the impact cultural traditions can have on young people growing up in modern times and the book will resonate will all who have experienced the pressure of expectation at the hands of their family.

The Weight of Water, Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Poetic and reflective, the story tells how Kasienka comes to England from Gdansk in Poland with her mother, a suitcase and a laundry bag full of clothes, desperate to search for her father.

I shall have to magic up some extra reading time for a few more of these. I strongly suspect none of the books have wizards or vampires in them. (Although, I would – obviously – welcome corrections from my well informed readers on this.)

Sorry for copying in the whole list. I simply felt it was important. And it made me feel better, after not having been able to join many of the authors on the list at the Guardian’s HQ on Monday.

21 responses to “Diverse voices

  1. Thank you for drawing attention to this important list

  2. Wonderful list and let us hope it spurs everyone–publishers, booksellers writers and readers on to even greater things! I take your point about wizards and vampires but certainly fantasy books should be as diverse as ‘realistic’ or issue-based fiction. There is a great YA diverse books infographic here if anyone’s interested, including fantasy, sic-fi and graphic novels:
    http://corinneduyvis.tumblr.com/post/99912650912/weneeddiversebooks-weneeddiversebooks-ya-flow

  3. Good morning! Two of the 50 books stereotype/misrepresent Native peoples. The two are AMAZING GRACE and APACHE. Details here: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-guardian-errs-in-its-list-of-50.html

  4. Regarding Amazing Grace, she is a small child. She plays like small children do. She won’t be an expert on Native people in another country.

    I haven’t read Apache. Yet. It’s one of my must read very soon books, because everyone – except you – have praised it highly.

    Most people get certain things wrong when they write about them. Last week I was spluttering about the view of 1960s London as imagined by an American screen writer, and whoever put the set together.

    If I was feeling uncharitable (and today I’m in a good mood, so am not) I could list countless of things that are wrong in many books. I personally don’t want to be wrong about the way other people feel, be it on grounds of race or sexual orientation or whatever. But I know I will be, from time to time. Hopefully someone out there will still like me, and/or be polite to me, despite my mistakes.

  5. Thank you for responding to my comment.
    Why does Grace being British matter?
    Are all book reviewers/critics who point out problems in a book uncharitable?

  6. Not at all, Debbie. Although if it’s a factual problem, I might point it out privately. If I like a book I will review it as positively as I can, and if I don’t like it I don’t review it, or finish reading it. Life is too short.

    Are you wanting books like Grace banned, then? Kept off lists? How far back in time do you go with your eraser, to make things ‘right?’

    I’m quite old. I’ve had time to see things in books that seemed all right, slowly become less so. But I can’t erase what I once read and enjoyed. Rights and decent conditions for Native Americans will not be made better for it.

    I am currently slightly involved in something to do with the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia (not even going to name them as I’m sure I’ll upset one group or other if I get it wrong, in either language) and I don’t believe I have to apologise for anything I said or did as a child, even if today some of that will be deemed non-PC. I have always meant well.

    But maybe you meant well with your original comment, and I just didn’t see it?

    • I agree: life is short (I’m no spring chicken, either, by the way). In that lifetime I’d like to see people know who we (Native peoples) are, for real, rather than romantic images. LITTLE BLACK SAMBO is not on the list. That’s a good thing. Was the decision not to include it–or works like it–censorship? Was it an effort to ban that book or others like it? I think not. As a society, we learn, we grow, we don’t repeat past mistakes. Enough people spoke up about LBS for people to realize we could no longer embrace or recommend that book. That same realization must happen with depictions of other peoples, too, in this case, Native Americans. The list would be far superior if it had a book by a Native author whose story is set in the present day. At my site, I’ve got book lists and a link to books that won the youth literature award from the American Indian Library Association. Here’s that link: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/p/best-books.html

  7. havealittletalk

    Perhaps Grace is pretending to be a Mardi Gras Indian. I can’t figure out how to post a picture, so just do an image search. In the 1700s Indians would help escaped slaves survive in the swamps around New Orleans. The Mardi Gras Indians started appearing in the early 20th century in Mardi Gras parades. Exactly how this custom began is disputed, but it is widely believed to have been a tribute by African [now] Americans to the indigenous peoples of the Delta. But my how the feathers abound on their costumes — beyond any Plains nation’s fanciest head-dress. Still, when African Americans honor these people — or more to the point their shared history — they use the things that immediately proclaim Indian in popular culture: feathers, or as Debbi Reese says, “the item that shouts INDIAN to the world.”

    Grace is barefoot because she is indoors; she is also shirtless, so I assume she is pretending to be a male Indian (they get to wear the head-dresses and have adventures). Why should children smile as they play all the time: she is in tough guy guard mode, so of course she isn’t smiling.

    I can’t imagine how a child could respectfully (enough) pretend to be a First Nations child. I suppose Grace could have dressed up in a long indigo velvet-ish gown and turquoise bracelets and necklace and pretended to cook or weave rugs. Doesn’t sound much fun to me.

    It’s pretend and play, but it is also a way to expand your possibilities beyond the immediate constraints of race and gender (like Grace).

    If you look at pictures of my sister-in-law in late 1950s Birmingham AL she has the same dress on over and over — her Indian dress, some loose brown thing with fringe cut on the hem and edges of sleeves. She’ll tell you still she KNEW at heart she was an Indian. Loved nature and the outdoors, not TV and Barbies in the living room. That to her was the difference between being an Indian and being who she “really” was. When she grew up and became an art teacher she learned a lot about different nations’ fiber arts or weaving and pottery, and taught this to her students.

    • If I said I felt like I “really” was British, would you think that was weird? Or if I thought I was “really” black? Because it’s the same thing–the same disrespectful thing as that British guy who retired to “become a Native American.” Becoming an ethnicity is not like choosing a profession. You cannot just one day say “I believe I’ll be Native American today!”

      Every one of your points in dispute of Debbie’s points just *proves her points*. Every one of your points is a stereotype of a fiction that never existed, not real-life people who exist today.

      • havealittletalk

        I think when a 7 year old says she feels she is “really” an Indian what she means is that from what she has seen in storybooks, she feels like she understands that there is another way to live that is not her family’s, that she feels less alone because she realizes that being starched and pressed isn’t the only way to live in the world. She wasn’t an Indian wanna-be after childhood, but her early interest sparked a desire to learn more about Indian culture, and as an artist, that was her way in. I was fond of Caddie Woodlawn myself, read all Brink’s books, and I wanted to wear long floral dresses and be assumed to be competent to contribute to the family like a frontier child. Because Caddie was white, and so am I, was that wish any different than Ann’s desire to be an Indian? Of course as I grew older and thought about what it would have been like to have lived that hardscrabble life, I didn’t want to be Caddie Woodlawn any more than Ann wanted the life of contemporary Indians. If we are talking of storybooks, are we not by definition talking of “a fiction that never existed, not real-life people who exist today”? Ann wanted to be a storybook Indian and I wanted to be a storybook covered wagon girl. Then as we grew up we realized we weren’t, aren’t and never could be.

  8. It’s worth remembering that as a black female child in Britain, she’s already a minority person, being told that she can’t do this or be that. Grace proves you can be anything you want.

    I was a very good Indian in my childhood, if I dare say so here.

    • No, you weren’t. You were pretending to be a stereotype you’d seen in your media. British media isn’t exactly known for good representation of Native Americans, so your ignorance has a likely source, but you’re being given an opportunity here to learn where your knowledge has gaps. Among a list of mostly-good books, there are bad representations that perpetuate the same stereotypes that British society has accepted for centuries, and perhaps it’s time to stop perpetuating those stereotypes (which is the point of the list, in the first place!).

      • Sorry, wrong word. I was pretending, of course. But I was pretending – in a Swedish sort of way – to be exactly the kind of Native American I saw in American westerns. I thought they were fantastic! Perhaps I did with them what many children do with Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel; I saw what I saw, and not what possibly very misguided people showed me.

        (I don’t believe I have ever seen a British western, and as I am an immigrant to the UK, I have to plead not guilty to having been influenced by British media.)

        This is a really interesting turn of events, because I’m really on your side. (Almost) the only thing that I take exception to is your unfriendly tone.

  9. havealittletalk

    As she would be here. As are the remaining Indians. I’d say Grace has more in common with American Indians than Disney princesses, which is about the only pretend person i can imagine a girl being without some possible objection, and even then she might feel that she is supposed to want to be that one black princess Disney introduced — I haven’t a clue of her name — and not one of the majors like Cinderella. Might as well give up and watch TV.

    • American Indians aren’t pretend people, so I’m not sure what your point is.

      • havealittletalk

        Yea, that was a pretty dumb comment. I was thinking of this book from the 30s of my mother’s and similar ones of the 60’s about stereotypical children around the world and how neat it was to imagine life as an Eskimo — even when as a Miami native I’d never seen snow — or to wear wooden shoes (though I’d never seen a tulip), or a heavily embroidered outfit and ride on a sleigh pulled by reindeer –stereotypes all, I know. And I was thinking that if all those images had been erased from my books back in the early 60s, what would I have had left: animals and fakes like white Disney princesses. I never had any desire to be a princess but as a white girl, that would have been an acceptable option. Then I guess I was trying to think if I were a black mom, would I think it healthy if my daughter ran around insisting she was Snow White.

  10. Must butt in to add that if you haven’t seen the sequel Princess Grace it is one of my 6 year old daughters’ favourites! The children have to be princesses on a float at a parade and Grace’s teacher brings in stories about princesses from different cultures–their real names are mentioned at the back in a sort of historical footnote. As.Grace’s grandma says wisely ‘There’s more than one way of being a princess.’

  11. Pingback: To be more right than others | Bookwitch

  12. Pingback: Indianer, negrer och lappar | Bookwitch på svenska

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