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Step into 2021 with empathy: Launching the new Empathy Day reading collections

The global pandemic has done much to highlight the need for kindness, supporting others in need, listening carefully and paying more attention to what we see and hear.  While we can’t always fix things, by developing our own empathy we can make a difference in other people’s lives, no matter how great or small.

The Read for Empathy book collections for 2021 launch on 26 January. There are two collections; primary for 4-11 year olds and secondary for 12-16 year olds. Some illuminate the experience of people from a range of cultures or life circumstances. Others help children explore emotions so they can understand how other people feel. Several reflect stories of our time, such as the refugee experience, or coping with anxiety. All are engaging and thought-provoking.

Empathy Collection 2021 Primary School Titles

I was one of the judges working with a wonderful team of librarians, teachers and educators to help select books that we think will help teach empathy, improve awareness and support children and young people to commit to being better human beings.

I spent the summer and autumn reading through a long list of secondary school books, to help arrive at the final shortlist. At times the books were quite challenging and painful to read.  It gave me a better understanding of the difficult periods in young people lives. It highlighted that contrary to that popular cliché, school days are not the best days of your life for all.  To live is to experience real life, and saviours and Samaritans are not always there to protect us.  So the books help us walk in other’s shoes and by doing that, we are able to empathise.

Empathy Collection 2021 Secondary School Titles

A strong theme that ran through many of the books this year was the destructive force of social media or ‘cyber’ bullying.  Bullying has always been a problem in schools but the rise of bullying online ramps up the horrifying effects on victims.  Society’s obsession with the perfect body through online content also serves to increase the loneliness of those who don’t fit in.  Domestic violence has also been recurring theme in many of the titles this years, and this felt apt given the rise in reports of domestic abuse throughout the lockdowns. But, despite these dark themes, all the titles have been chosen for their ability to empower and support readers to realise empathy for themselves and others and so build resilience and hope.

The primary collection includes some beautifully illustrated picture books to share with young children.  It’s never too early to teach empathy.  In the birth of a new and more hopeful year of 2021, let our new year’s resolution be one of empathy, for both ourselves and in our commitment to teach it and lead by example.

Download the 2021 #ReadForEmpathy Guides here

Sarah Smith is the Libraries Development Manager for Brent Libraries and a judge for the Read for Empathy book collections with the charity Empathy Lab UK.

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: Be The Light In The Darkness

The 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur – as well as present-day situations around the world and closer to home.

This year’s theme is ‘Be the light in the darkness’, which asks everyone to consider different kinds of ‘darkness’ – identity-based persecution, misinformation, denial of justice; and different ways of ‘being the light’ – resistance, acts of solidarity, rescue and illuminating mistruths.

Explore these special collections of books from our e-library marking Holocaust Memorial Day 2021:

Adult’s collection

Young adult’s collection

Children’s collection

Our staff recommend the following titles available from our e-library:

Hana’s Suitcase: A True Story, by Karen Levine

In March 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children’s Holocaust education centre in Tokyo. It belonged to an orphan girl called Hana Brady. Everyone was desperate to discover the story of Hana – Who was she? What had happened to her? This is the true story of what was uncovered of Hana and her family.

The Missing, by Michael Rosen

A personal, powerful and resonant account of the Holocaust by one of this country’s best-loved children’s authors. When Michael was growing up, stories often hung in the air about his great-uncles. They were there before the war, his dad would say, and weren’t after. Over many years, Michael tried to find out exactly what happened: he interviewed family members, scoured the internet, pored over books and travelled to America and France. The story he uncovered was one of terrible persecution – and it has inspired his poetry for years since. Here, poems old and new are balanced against an immensely readable narrative; both an extraordinary account and a powerful tool for talking to children about the Holocaust.

Run, Boy, Run, by by Uri Orlev

“’Srulik, there’s no time. I want you to remember what I’m going to tell you. You have to stay alive. You have to! Get someone to teach you how to act like a Christian, how to cross yourself and pray. . . . The most important thing, Srulik,’ . . . . But even if you forget everything—even if you forget me and Mama—never forget that you’re a Jew.'”

And so, at only eight years old, Srulik Frydman says goodbye to his father for the last time and becomes Jurek Staniak, an orphan on the run in the Polish countryside at the height of the Holocaust.

The Night Crossing, by Karen Ackerman

It’s hard to leave your home and friends, but the Nazis have invaded Clara’s native Austria, and her Jewish family is no longer safe. Clara and her family take only what they can carry and travel by night to the Swiss border, where they hope to escape to freedom. Soldiers are everywhere, and it is Clara’s heroism that carries the family across the border, their lives and few precious possessions intact.

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo

When Lesley is sent to Venice to interview world-renowned violinist Paulo Levi on his fiftieth birthday, she cannot believe her luck. She is told that she can ask him anything at all – except the Mozart question. But it is Paulo himself who decides that it is time for the truth to be told. And so follows the story of his parents as Jewish prisoners of war, forced to play Mozart violin concerti for the enemy; how they watched fellow Jews being led off to their deaths and knew that they were playing for their lives. As the story unfolds, the journalist begins to understand the full horror of war, and how one group of musicians survived using the only weapon they had – music.

A Faraway Island, by Annika Thor (Faraway Island Series, Book 1)

It’s the summer of 1939. Two Jewish sisters from Vienna -12-year-old Stephie Steiner and 8-year-old Nellie – are sent to Sweden to escape the Nazis. They expect to stay there six months, until their parents can flee to Amsterdam; then all four will go to America. But as the world war intensifies, the girls remain, each with her own host family, on a rugged island off the western coast of Sweden. Nellie quickly settles in, but not so for Stephie, who finds it hard to adapt. Her main worry, though, is her parents – and whether she will ever see them again.

The Lily Pond by Annika Thor (Faraway Island Series, Book 2)

A year after Stephie Steiner and her younger sister, Nellie, left Nazi-occupied Vienna, Stephie has finally adapted to life on the rugged Swedish island where she now lives. As she navigates a sea of new emotions, she also grapples with what it means to be beholden to others, with her constant worry about what her parents are enduring back in Vienna, and with the menacing spread of Nazi ideology, even in Sweden. In these troubled times, her true friends, Stephie discovers, are the ones she least expected.

Auschwitz Voices From the Death Camp, by James Deem

“Yet, my little Diary, I don’t want to die, I still want to live . . . ” Éva Heyman, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl, wrote these words in her last diary entry in the spring of 1944. Soon after, she was deported and murdered at Auschwitz. During the Holocaust, the Nazis murdered more than one million people at the camp. The largest of all the Nazi camps, Auschwitz was both a death camp and a forced labour camp. Author James M. Deem examines this place of unspeakable horror from the perspective of those who experienced it, from the construction of the camp to its final days.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Nine year old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. He’s oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has moved from Berlin to a desolate area where he has no one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel.

Shmuel lives in a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence, where everyone wears a uniform of striped pyjamas. Despite the wire fence separating them, the two boys become best friends.

As they grow closer, Bruno starts to learn the terrible truth that lies beyond the fence.

No Buts, Becky!, by José Patterson

A period novel set in the East End of London in 1908. It describes the tenement life of a Yiddish-speaking Russian Jewish family who, like many others, escaped to England from the widespread killing of innocent Jews, known as pogroms. The heroine, eleven-year-old Becky, and her young brother Yossie, live with their widowed father, Jacob Feldman, and their elderly grandmother Bubbe. No Buts, Becky! is an amusing and heartwarming work of historical children’s fiction that will appeal to children aged 9-11. José explores a subject not often documented – the way of life and cultural traditions of hard-working poor Russian Jewish refugees who escaped to London 150 years ago – in a delightful way. Becky Feldman is a feisty, rebellious young heroine who many children will be able to relate to.

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The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

The golden age of detective fiction is usually considered to be the years between 1920  – 1939,  when a group of mostly British authors were active, defining a new genre of  perfect crimes, country houses, railway journeys, lavish wealth and the bungling of dim-witted police as well as the greater powers of observation and superior mind of the detective.   

Agatha Christie

agatha christie

A group of friends meet regularly for dinner and one night the conversation turns to mysteries. They agree that over the next few weeks they will each take turns at telling of a mystery they were involved in, but before they reveal the solution they will let the group see if they can solve it. They are a diverse group, well positioned to understand the depths to which human nature can descend – a policeman, a lawyer, a clergyman, an artist and a novelist. The sixth is less likely to have much insight, or so her friends assume, being an old maid who has spent her entire life in the quiet backwater of an idyllic English village. Her name is Miss Jane Marple…

Immensely enjoyable short story collection of murder and intrigue where Miss Marple nails the end of each tale with the correct answer to the problem. There’s thirteen stories, hence thirteen problems. Discover it now.

 4.50 from Paddington

When Elspeth McGillicuddy glances out of the window of her train carriage, she can see straight into another train that is running parallel to her own. As a blind flies up on the carriage opposite her, she is horrified to see a woman being strangled by a tall, dark man. Unable to do anything to prevent it, she reports it to the conductor. He suspects she’s just been napping and has dreamt the whole thing, but he’s a conscientious man so he reports the matter at the next station. However, no body is found on the train, and there the matter would probably have rested, but for the fact that Mrs McGillicuddy was on her way to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple. Miss Marple knows Mrs McGillicuddy is a sensible woman with no imagination, so believes that she saw exactly what she claims. Feeling too old and unfit to snoop around herself, Miss Marple asks Lucy Eyelesbarrow to hunt for the body and so Lucy takes a job at Rutherford Hall…

An engaging read that had me turning the pages in anticipation. The characters and stories are pleasant to read, you really get to know them and their quirks. You’re taken on a journey by a wonderful storyteller. Highly recommended – borrow now.

Read More Golden Age Detectives

Explore authors from The Golden Age of Detective stories with this collection available from our e-library. Discover the works of G.K. Chesterton, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Anthony Berkeley Cox and Dorothy L. Sayers amongst others.

Sign up to the e-library and there are a number of apps you can download to give you quick and easy access to collections on your device. Download ‘Libby’ for e-audio and e-books, ‘Borrowbox’ for e-audio, ‘RB Digital’ for magazines, read newspapers with ‘Press Reader’. Plus renew, reserve and search the catalogue and manage your account with ‘My Library App’. Discover them today!

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Banned Books Week 2020

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read, launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. 

This year Banned Books Week is from 27 September – 3 October, with the theme of this year’s event: “Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!”

In celebration of Banned Books Week we take a look some banned, or almost banned, books available to borrow from Brent Libraries.

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (published 1934) was banned in the US, the UK, Finland and Canada for obscenity and was considered “notorious for its candid sexuality”. Finally, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the book non-obscene. It is now regarded as an important work of 20th-century literature. Discover it for yourself.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (written 1940, published in a censored form, 1966) was banned by Stalin, while the Russian Orthodox Church worried that its text might undermine people’s faith. Its plot lampoons state authoritarianism and censorship in a country that has a tradition of both. Discover a novel in which the devil takes centre stage.

Maya Angelou’s I know Why The Caged Bird Sings (published 1961) is among several classic books currently banned from Alaska classrooms – banned because of “sexually explicit material, such as the sexual abuse the author suffered as a child, and its ‘anti-white messaging'”. Detailing abandonment by her mother and the racism and trauma Angelou experienced as a child, she also describes how years later in San Francisco, she learns that love for herself, the kindness of others and the ideas of great authors could finally allow her to be free. Discover this moving work.

George Orwell’s Amimal Farm (published 1945), is an allegorical short story about a group of animals who overthrow their human farmer in order to live freely, only to end up under the dictatorship of Napoleon the pig. Banned by Stalin, Amimal Farm reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era. Borrow it now.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published 1932) was banned at publication in Ireland for its language and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion. It was also banned in India in 1967, with Huxley accused of being a “pornographer”. Brave New World has also been banned in US classrooms. Discover this dystopian and prophetic novel.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (published 1995) was number 8 on the Top 100 Banned Books list for 2000-2009. In 2007, the US Catholic League campaigned against The Golden Compass (titled The Amber Spyglass in the UK), declaring that it promoted atheism and attacked Christianity. Pullman partially confirmed this, saying “In one way, I hope the wretched organisation will vanish entirely.” But he’s also made it clear that it’s not God or religion he objects to, rather the way that the structures and ideas are used for ill. Discover Pullman’s epic work.

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (published 1958) is a stark, coolly ironic novel that reshaped both African and world literature, and has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people has nonetheless received criticism for its portrayal of colonialism and its consequences, and has reportedly been banned in Malaysia and Nigeria. In 2012 it made the list of works that were challenged for their themes in Texas schools. Borrow it now.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos> It was banned in 1997 in Virginia when a parent complained about sexual explicitness, but despite this was retained on the Stonewall Jackson High School’s academically advanced reading list. Hurston’s classic has, since its 1978 reissue, become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature. Borrow it now.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson (published 2005) tells the true story of three Chinstrap penguins—Roy, Silo, and their adopted daughter, Tango hatched from an egg put into their care. Despite the happy ending, Tango was banned in some towns in the US and in Singapore and Hong Kong for promoting homosexuality and complaints about the book were also made in the UK. Read now.

I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings (published 2015) explores Jennings’ struggle with having “a girl brain but a boy body,” and her family’s confusion over and acceptance of her gender identity. 

When a Californian student brought a copy in to read to class to explain her own experiences as a trans person several parents complained and subsequently removed their children from the school, calling for a policy that allowed them to keep their children from sharing a classroom with a transgender student.

The school stood behind their book policy, affirming the inclusion of LGBTQ literature in classrooms, and the school decided not to add the requested “opt out” policy, which would have been tantamount to illegal discrimination. Unfortunately, however, the school chose to add a ‘red flag’ policy that would forewarn parents about potentially ‘controversial’ material, which could invite future complaints and disrupt the educational process, effectively labelling certain materials as controversial.

Once Banned – Novels That Have Shaped Our World

Animal Farm, Brave New World, Things Fall Apart, Their Eyes Were Watching God and His Dark Materials are all on the list of the list of BBC 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

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South Asian Heritage Month

South Asian Heritage Month runs from 18 July – 17 August.

These dates respect the traditions of the South Asian solar calendar and include several significant dates:

  • 18 July: the Independence of India Act 1947 gained royal assent
  • 26 July: Maldives Independence Day
  • 8 August: Bhutan Independence Day
  • 14 August: Pakistani Independence Day
  • 15 August: Indian Independence Day
  • 17 August: Partition Commemoration Day or the date that the Radcliffe Line was published in 1947, setting out where the border between India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) would be

South Asia is formed of 8 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. South Asian Heritage Month aims to transform how people connect with South Asian cultures and identity by celebrating arts, culture and heritage and by commemoration of and education on the history and anniversaries of these nations.

Find out more here.

Why not explore these titles inspired by South Asian Heritage Month:

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. Borrow now.

The Anarchy, The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple

In his most ambitious and riveting book to date, William Dalrymple tells the story of the East India Company as it has never been told before, unfolding a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power. Borrow now.

Divided, Why We’re Living In An Age of Walls by Tim Marshall

Covering China; the USA; Israel and Palestine; the Middle East; the Indian Subcontinent; Africa; Europe and the UK, in this gripping read bestselling author Tim Marshall delves into our past and our present to reveal the fault lines that will shape our world for years to come. Borrow now.

Return of a King, The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2013, Return of a King is the definitive analysis of the First Afghan War, told through the lives of unforgettable characters on all sides and using for the first time contemporary Afghan accounts of the conflict. Borrow now.

Pakistan, A Personal History by Imran Khan

Born only five years after Pakistan was created in 1947, Imran Khan has lived his country’s history. Drawing on the experiences of his own family and his wide travels within his homeland Khan provides a unique insider’s view of a country unfamiliar to a western audience. Borrow now.

Prisoners of Geography, Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall

All leaders are constrained by geography. If you’ve ever wondered why Putin is so obsessed with Crimea, why the USA was destined to become a global superpower, or why China’s power base continues to expand ever outwards, the answers are all here. Borrow now.

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Nelson Mandela International Day – 18 July

Nelson Mandela in 2000

 It is easy to break down and destroy.
The heroes are those who make peace and build. 

 – Nelson Mandela

The Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a nonviolence anti-apartheid activist who became South Africa’s first black president after winning the country’s first democratic election. Discover more about the life of Nelson Mandela with these titles from our e-library.

Commemorated on July 18—Nelson Mandela’s birthday—Nelson Mandela International Day celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world and the ability to make an impact.

Let the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela inspire you to learn more about social justice. Discover this new collection of titles exploring social justice, anti-racism and equality available from our e-library.

Recommended titles

Invictus by John Carlin

When Nelson Mandela appeared wearing a Springboks jersey and led the all-white Afrikaner-dominated team in singing South Africa’s new national anthem, he conquered the hearts of white South Africa. Invictus shows how a sport, once the preserve of South Africa’s Afrikaans-speaking minority, came to unify the new rainbow nation, and tells of how something as simple as a game can help people to rise above themselves and see beyond their differences. Borrow now.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population, creating a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives. Borrow now.

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms. Borrow now.

Double Victory: African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach

Double Victory tells the stories of African American women who did extraordinary things to help their country during World War II. In these pages young readers meet a range of remarkable women: war workers, political activists, military women, volunteers, and entertainers. Some, such as Mary McLeod Bethune and Lena Horne, were celebrated in their lifetimes and are well known today. But many others fought discrimination at home and abroad in order to contribute to the war effort yet were overlooked during those years and forgotten by later generations. Borrow now.

White Rage The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as “black rage,” historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in The Washington Post suggesting that this was, instead, “white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames,” she argued, “everyone had ignored the kindling.” From the Civil War to our combustible present, acclaimed historian Carol Anderson reframes our continuing conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America. Borrow now.

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Born This Week: Emmeline Pankhurst

‘Deeds Not Words’

This week we celebrate Emmeline Goulden Pankhurst, who was born on 15 July 1858 in Manchester, England to liberal-minded parents who supported both the antislavery and women’s suffrage movements.

Pankhurst attended her first suffrage meeting with her mother at the tender age of 14, she then became devoted to the cause of women’s suffrage.

In 1903, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an all-women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to “deeds, not words”.


Hundreds of women, including Pankhurst, went on hunger strikes during their numerous imprisonments. Prison officials resorted to violent force-feeding of the women, some of whom actually died from the procedure. Newspaper accounts of such mistreatment helped to generate sympathy for the suffragists. 

The Right To Vote

Finally in 1918 that the Representation of the People Act was passed. This gave women over the age of 30, who met a property qualification to vote. Although 8.5 million women met this criteria, it was only about two-thirds of the total population of women in the UK. It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that all women over 21 were able to vote – achieving the same voting rights as men at the time.

Pankhurst grew up all too aware of the prevailing attitude of her day: that men were considered superior to women. Throughout the course of her career she endured humiliation, prison, hunger strikes and the repeated frustration of her aims by men in power, but she rose to become a guiding light of the Suffragette movement. This is the story, in Pankhurst’s own words, of her struggle for equality. Borrow now.

Kate Pankhurst, descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, has created this wildly wonderful and accessible book about women who really changed the world. Discover fascinating facts about some of the most amazing women who changed the world we live in, including Jane Austen, Gertrude Ederle, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Mary Seacole, Amelia Earhart, Agent Fifi, Sacagawa, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks and Anne Frank. Borrow now.

Explore the stories of other great women, available from our e-library.

Desert Flower, The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert by Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie leads a double life — by day, she is an international supermodel and human rights ambassador for the United Nations; by night, she dreams of the simplicity of life in her native Somalia and the family she was forced to leave behind. Desert Flower, her intimate and inspiring memoir, is a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered about the beauty of African life, the chaotic existence of a supermodel, or the joys of new motherhood. Borrow now.

Life isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal

Sunita – perfect housewife – is married to Akash, but is her marriage what it seems? Chila – warm, loveable – has married with great fanfare the entrepreneur Deepak. But are they really in love? Tania – beautiful, rebellious – has rejected her traditional upbringing for a top television career. But is she really as tough as she says? Borrow now.

The Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

 Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote. Borrow now.

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Celebrating Black Authors: Classic Works

Discover classic works by some of the most important black authors of the Twentieth Century, available to borrow from our e-library.

Zora Neale Hurston

(7 January 1891 – 28 January 1960). Born in Notasulga, Alabama, the fifth of eight children, Hurston published her first story in 1921. As well as an author, she was also an anthropologist and a filmmaker. Her works portrayed racial struggles in the early-1900s American South.

Hurston’s work Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has, since its 1978 reissue, become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

Ralph Ellison

(1 March 1914 – 16 April 1994). Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Ellison knew what it was like to be a black man in both the segregated South and the treacherously half-accepting North. He worked as a shoeshine boy, a busboy, a hotel waiter, and an assistant in a dentist’s office. He escaped those jobs, studied music at the Tuskegee Institute, then left for New York and never returned.

Ellison’s blistering and impassioned first novel, Invisible Man, tells the extraordinary story of a man who is invisible ‘simply because people refuse to see me’. Yet his powerfully depicted adventures – from a terrifying Harlem race riot to his expulsion from a Southern college – go far beyond the story of one man. The lives of countless millions are evoked in this superb portrait of a generation of black Americans.

Toni Morrison

(18 February 1931 – 5 August 2019). Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, the second of four children from a working-class family. Her family frequently experienced racism including when Morrison was about two years old, the family’s landlord set fire to their house while they were inside, because her parents couldn’t pay the rent. Morrison’s parents instilled in her a sense of heritage and language through telling traditional African-American folktales, ghost stories, and singing songs.

Is who we are really only skin deep? In Race, Morrison unravels race through the stories of those debased and dehumanised because of it. A young black girl longing for the blue eyes of white baby dolls spirals into inferiority and confusion. A friendship falls apart over a disputed memory. Strange and unexpected, yet always stirring, Morrison’s writing on race sinks us deep into the heart and mind of our troubled humanity.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past. Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad, yet she is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Meanwhile Sethe’s house has long been troubled by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

James Baldwin

(2 August 1924 – 1 December 1987). Growing up in Harlem, New York, Baldwin faced many obstacles, one of which was his education: “I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use”.

When Another Country appeared in 1962, it caused a literary sensation. James Baldwin’s masterly story of desire, hatred and violence opens with the unforgettable character of Rufus Scott, a scavenging Harlem jazz musician adrift in New York. Self-destructive, bad and brilliant, he draws us into a Bohemian underworld pulsing with heat, music and sex, where desperate and dangerous characters betray, love and test each other to the limit.

One of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’, Baldwin’s ground-breaking second novel, Giovanni’s Room, tells the story of David, a young American in 1950s Paris, waiting for his fiancée to return from vacation in Spain. But when he meets Giovanni, a handsome Italian barman, the two men are drawn into an intense affair. Baldwin caused outrage as a black author writing about white homosexuals, yet for him the issues of race, sexuality and personal freedom were eternally intertwined.

Maya Angelou

(4 April 1928—28 May 2014). Although born in St. Louis, Angelou spent much of her childhood in the care of her paternal grandmother in rural Stamps, Arkansas. When she was not yet eight years old, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and told of it, after which he was murdered; the traumatic sequence of events left her almost completely mute for several years.

This early life and its trauma is the focus of her first autobiographical work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Detailing abandonment by her mother and the racism and trauma she experienced, Angelou also describes how years later in San Francisco, she learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit and the ideas of great authors could finally allow her to be free.

Alex Haley

(11 August 1921 – 10 February 1992). Born in Ithaca, New York, he soon moved with his mother to Henning, Tennessee while his father finished his degree at Cornell University. While in Tennessee, Haley’s future work would be greatly influenced by his grandmother, who often recited the family history at gatherings. During World War II, Haley worked as a cook stationed in the Pacific. There, he began to write to alleviate the monotony of life on the ship.

Haley was best known for his historical work, including the widely-acclaimed Roots. Tracing his ancestry through six generations – slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lawyers and architects – back to Africa, Haley discovered a sixteen-year-old youth, Kunta Kinte. It was this young man, who had been torn from his homeland and in torment and anguish brought to the slave markets of the New World, who held the key to Haley’s deep and distant past.

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Graphic Novels

Discover graphic novels available from our e-library, exploring great moments in black history and telling superhero stories. 

Martin Luther King Jr. by Jennifer Lee Fandel
Brian Bascle

A biography telling the life story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his leadership in the civil rights movement to stop racism, segregation, and discrimination in the United States.

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin.

New York City is about to go through a few changes. Like all great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife…and how well he can learn to sing the city’s mighty song.

Civil War: Black Panther by Reginald Hudlin and
Scot Eaton

The Royal Couple, King T’Challa and Queen Ororo, embark on a diplomatic tour visiting the Civil War-ravaged United States, for a meeting with none other than the point man for the U.S. government’s implementation of the Superhuman Registration Act: Tony Stark, T’Challa’s former Avengers teammate. Will the Black Panther and Storm decide to get off the sidelines of the Civil War and get involved?

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze

A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) takes the helm, confronting T’Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before.

Black Panther: The Complete Collection, Volume 1, by Christopher Priest and Joe Quesada

Black Panther reinvented as a sharp and witty political satire? Believe it! T’Challa is the man with the plan as Christopher Priest puts the emphasis on the Wakandan king’s reputation as the ultimate statesman, as seen through the eyes of the U.S. government’s Everett K. Ross.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Volume 1, by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli

Before Peter Parker died, young Miles was poised to start the next chapter in his life in a new school. Then, a spider’s bite granted the teenager incredible arachnid-like powers. Now, Miles has been thrust into a world he doesn’t understand, with only gut instinct and a little thing called responsibility as his guides. Can he live up to Peter’s legacy as Spider-Man?

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Black Lives Matter – Reading for Children and Teens

Explore these titles celebrating black authors, stories and characters – for all ages, available from our e-library.

If All The World Were… by Joseph Coelho & Allison Colpoys

A moving, lyrical picture book about a young girl’s love for her granddad and how she copes when he dies, written by poet and playwright Joseph Coelho. This beautifully illustrated, powerful and ultimately uplifting text is the ideal way to introduce children to the concept of death and dying, particularly children who have lost a grandparent.

Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

While riding the subway home from the pool with his Abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: But what will Abuela think about how Julián sees himself?

Granny Ting Ting by Patrice Lawrence

Nine-year-old Michael is coming from London to Trinidad to visit his grandmother, who is recovering from a difficult operation, and his ten-year-old cousin, Shayla. A fierce rivalry develops between the two children and everything becomes a competition—who can eat the hottest food, climb the tallest tree, tell the spookiest story. Michael wins each time and Shayla confesses to her mum that she feels Michael’s life is much more exciting than hers. Luckily Shayla’s mum has a plan…

Too Much Trouble by Tom Avery

‘Get out, Emmanuel!” growled my uncle. “Take your brother and go.”But where can two boys go when they’re on their own, on the run, with little money or food? All 12-year-old Emmanuel knows is that he has to look after Prince. On the train to London, Em and Prince have no idea where they will end up – but then they meet the mysterious Mr Green and his “friends”. And that’s when things start to spin out of control…

The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson

Out of the blue arrives an exotic young woman from a foreign land. Fearless and strong, ‘Princess’ Caraboo rises above the suspicions of the wealthy family who take her in. But who is the real Caraboo? In a world where it seems everyone is playing a role, could she be an ordinary girl with a tragic past? Is she a confidence trickster? Or is she the princess everyone wants her to be?

The Crossover Graphic Novel by Kwame Alexander

‘With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ‘Cuz tonight I’m delivering,’ raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood – he’s got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara has always kept her words to herself. When it comes to standing her ground in her Harlem neighbourhood, she lets her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But X has secrets – her feelings for a boy in her bio class, and the notebook full of poems that she keeps under her bed. And a slam poetry club that will pull those secrets into the spotlight. Because in spite of a world that might not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to stay silent.

Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her two-part West African-inspired fantasy.

Somebody Give This Heart A Pen by Sophia Thakur

From acclaimed performance poet Sophia Thakur comes a powerful first collection of poems exploring issues of identity, difference, faith, relationships, fear, loss and joy. Intricate, evocative and dazzling – these are poems that explore the experiences that connect people; they encourage readers to look within and explore the tendencies of the heart.

“I Will Not Be Erased” by gal-dem

gal-dem, the award-winning online and print magazine, is created by women and non-binary people of colour. In this life-affirming, moving and joyous collection of fourteen essays, gal-dem’s talented writers use raw material from their teenage years – diaries, poems and chat histories – to give advice to their younger selves and those growing up today.

Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman

Sephy is a Cross, a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought, a ‘colourless’ member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood. But that’s as far as it can go. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity by Noughts, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum, a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline.

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