The month of October means chilly autumn winds, Halloween costumes and pumpkin spice lattes but another important event also takes place on the tenth month of each year. Black History Month celebrates the rich diversity and culture of many Black British people and all throughout the month there will be events all around the capital. Here at Brent libraries we embrace this all over our departments but none more so than our Children’s libraries. Here are five books for children that feature and teach all about Black culture.
- Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
10 year old Grace is a bubbly girl with a lot of ambitions for what she wants to be when she is older, but for now she really wants to be
Peter Pan for the school play. When she is put down by her classmates who say that she cannot play Peter Pan because she is a girl and that she is black, Grace is very upset. Grace finds solace in her grandmother who tells her about all the great things that Black people have done in history. With that new found confidence Grace shines as Peter Pan now she feels she can do anything. This book is great for teaching kids that there is no limit to what you can achieve, no matter who you are.
2. Through My Window by Tony Bradman
This vibrant book celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and it is worthy of that distinction for a very good reason that it
celebrates the diversity of London. The story is about a little girl called Jo who sees all the people and sights around her estate from the milkman, postman and her neighbour Mrs Ali who shares with Jo and her dad sweets from her country. This book teaches young children about all the varieties of people and sights that are all around us and how sharing is good.
3. I love my Hair! By Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
Hair comes in many different textures, lengths and colours but when you are a child it can be hard to feel good about your hair, especially when it is not the ‘same’ as ‘others’. This book is all about celebrating Afro-Caribbean hair told in a lovely array of watercolours. It shows techniques of caring for Afro-Caribbean hair in which they can relate to. It also teaches young black children to be proud of their hair and heritage. This book is very useful and is a very nice addition to your child’s bookshelf.
4. Handa’s Hen by Eileen Brown
Handa’s Hen is a counting book about a girl called Handa from a Kenyan tribe. One day she goes out to feed her grandmother’s hen and finds out that she has disappeared. We then follow Handa and her best friend Akeyo to find the hen, learning numbers across the way. They come across sunbirds and lizards in their journey to find the missing hen. This beautiful book teaches kids about counting and how other cultures live and be together.
In a recent staff meeting at Ealing Road Library one of my colleagues was discussing a book she’d noticed while shelving. Favourite Stories for Girls, the book is a fairly entertaining book of stories including one about a beauty pageant winner who defies her mother to play football with the boys and one about a girl detective who tries to solve The Case of the Appearing Sandwiches using the methods of Sherlock Holmes – but what struck us all was the title. Is it right to identify a book as suitable for one particular gender? I thought it was a shame boys might be put off reading this funny book by the title but on the other hand maybe it’s a helpful way to tell children what the book is about. Maybe I am too keen to be politically correct when encouraging children to read should be a priority. Whether we like it or not boys and girls do find aspects of their identity through gender roles and identifying which gender a book most suits might help them choose books they are likely to enjoy. Alternatively you could argue ‘which came first?’ do girls like fairies and boys dragons because it’s in their nature or because they’ve been told that’s what they should like?
“it’s a serious matter because it does narrow children’s sense of what they’re allowed to do or like, in a horrible, horrible way” Anne Fine
Last year Ladybird came down on the side of not labeling books and from now on ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ labels will not feature on their books. But as short a time ago as 2011 they published; Favourite Fairy Tales for Girls: the mix of princesses, fairies and classic characters is perfect for little girls everywhere and Favourite Stories for Boys: the lively mix of adventurous heroes, dastardly creatures and classic characters is perfect for boys everywhere. They defended this choice saying it was a way to make choosing a book easier, particularly for grandparents selecting a gift. I find these titles quite shocking! If you remove the words ‘boy/girl’ but leave the rest of the description you are still able to learn what the book is about but without excluding anyone, if your little girl loves princesses choose the first one if she prefers adventure stories choose the second.
“Books are for people. Stories are for people. Limiting that is foolish and short-sighted” Neil Gaiman
We do have a challenge though. Encouraging children to read is not always easy, particularly with boys, could a range of books seen to be especially for boys help encourage them to read more? I’m not sure but don’t think we should pursue the method even if it did work. We want children to read for a reason not just for the sake of it, we want children to read because it helps them learn about who they are, expands their ability to be open minded and imaginative – we have to practice what we are preaching! If you say ‘these books are just for you’ you are automatically saying to someone else ‘these books aren’t for you’ – and that seems wrong.
“what may seem to be a harmless marketing strategy, is, to an impressionable child, really a form of brainwashing, repeating the false message that boys are brilliant and brave, while girls are mostly just decorative”. Joanne Harris
David Walliams is described as “the fastest growing children’s author in the UK.” The book is about a 12 year old boy Dennis. Dennis loves playing football. However he doesn’t think he fits in. He enjoys reading vogue because it reminds him of his mother yellow dress that she was wearing in a photograph. His parents are separated and Dennis lives with his dad. Dennis and John (Dennis’s elder brother) aren’t allowed to talk about their mother in the house. Dennis thinks that his dad is depressed.
Dennis meets the most fashionable girl in school-Lisa, and Lisa encourages Dennis to wear a dress. He wears it to the corner shop and enjoys it. The boy in the dress is a good book but it is too long. I think that this is quite different kind of book. It is quite interesting. It tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who enjoys cross dressing, it also shows us the reactions of Dennis’s family and friends.
I would give this book 3/5.
BY: Umaimma Asif
The author of the novel is David Walliams. The book is about a boy called Ben. Ben has to stay with his stay with his grandmother every Friday because his parents go to see a dancing show named Strictly Stars Dancing. He thinks that she is very boring and treats him like baby. His granny always feeds him cabbage related dishes, most commonly cabbage soup, they are constantly playing Scrabble. Ben wants to be a plumber when he grows up. However Bens parent want him to become a professional ballroom dancer.
The twist in the plot is that Ben thinks that his grandma is an international jewellery thief. Ben thought that his granny was on the world top criminals! The book has a very sad ending.
I found the book emotional and yes I know it’s a children’s book but it had some serious emotion. The only negative thing I can say about the book is that it is really long. It takes forever to finish.
I would give it 3/5.
By Umaimma Asif
This book has been long listed for the CILIP Carnegie Medal.
This story is set in the Australian outback at the turn of the last century. It focuses on the friendship between grieving 11 year old heroine Comity and Fred, an Aborigine boy. The story mainly takes place on telegraph messaging base where Comity’s Father manages communication of messages via Morse code. Comity’s father is an ‘absent’ father who has slipped into a deep depression following the death of his much loved wife by a snake. The telegraph outpost is staffed by about six male white staff and a small group of Aborigine people. Fred helps to support the grieving Comity and provide her with comfort that her father is unable to do, often enlightening her about Aborigine myths and beliefs. Together they combine both Christian and Aborigine beliefs to manage the grieving process. Into this mix comes an assistant telegraph manager who is a bully and racist, lazy and a trouble maker, with ambitions of taking over management of the outpost. The scene is set for some very tense storytelling highlighting what life was like for Aborigines in colonial Australia. There is also an Asian Muslim community referred to as the Ghans who keep to themselves whilst building a camel transport industry. I was unaware of their presence in Australian history. The story is very good and well written, but unsettling in terms of the casual racism, the parental neglect and the children’s struggles in the unknown outback to save themselves. This is a thought provoking story with opportunities for much discussion.