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Black History Month: Books black authors want all children to read

Sir Lenny Henry, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé and more share their top picks from black authors.

Prudence Wade
Monday 02 October 2023 11:55 BST
Author Alex Falase-Koya is a fan of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses (Oxford Children’s/Penguin/PA)
Author Alex Falase-Koya is a fan of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses (Oxford Children’s/Penguin/PA)

The power of books is unrivalled.

They can be a window into someone else’s culture, as well as helping you feel less alone – but representation still has a way to go in children’s literature.

A survey from BookTrust found 11% of children aged seven to 17 said not being able to find books they can relate to stops them from reading; and between 2007 and 2017, BookTrust found that only 8.62% of children’s book creators were people of colour, with 1.96% being from British people of colour.

If you’re looking to boost your child’s reading list this Black History Month, these are some brilliant books to pick up – chosen by black authors…

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, author of the Doomsday Date and World Book Day author for 2024, says her “favourite black-authored book is Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds”.

Published in 2017 by American author Reynolds, Àbíké-Íyímídé says, “It’s a book told in verse about the cyclical nature of violence with A Christmas Carol-esque twist.”

Long Way Down is a YA novel that follows Will, immediately after his brother is shot in a gang-related incident. Will is hell-bent on revenge – until he’s visited by friends from his past who lost their lives in similar ways, causing him to rethink his worldview.

“Reynolds manipulates time and space in such a clever way, with the entire story taking place in just 60 seconds,” Àbíké-Íyímídé says.

Grimwood by Nadia Shireen

Considering his background in comedy, it’s no surprise Sir Lenny Henry – author of The Boy With Wings series and 2023 World Book Day author – picks out a humorous book series.

“Nadia Shireen’s Grimwood stories starring young foxes looking for a quiet life in the country are side-splitting,” he says.

These illustrated middle-grade books follow fox cub siblings Ted and Nancy and their adventures in the weird and wacky countryside town of Grimwood – full of dramatic ducks, thieving eagles and more.

“Packed full of adventures, scrapes and more, she had me laughing out loud and trying heaps of voices for all the different characters,” Henry says.

First published in 2021, there are now three books in the series.

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Alex Falase-Koya, author of the multi-award nominated Marv series and World Book Day author for 2024, picks out Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman.

“It was a hugely impactful book for me when I was growing up,” he says, calling it “a masterpiece that uses speculative fiction to comment on racism”.

First published in 2001, Blackman’s influential novel is set in an alternate reality where race relations are reversed. It tells the story of Sephy, who is black and therefore part of the ruling class, who does the unthinkable and falls in love with Callum – who is white.

Noughts & Crosses is the first in a hard-hitting series from Blackman, made up of six novels and three novellas. The first book was adapted into a BBC TV series in 2020, with a second season currently in the works.

My Name is Sunshine Simpson by G.M. Linton

Tolá Okogwu, 2024 World Book Day author, recommends My Name is Sunshine Simpson by G.M. Linton.

It follows Sunshine as she navigates so many familiar things children might go through – school stresses, friendships changing and grappling with her grandfather getting older.

“It’s a powerful book that tackles grief and navigating difficult friendships with such charm and humour,” Okogwu says.

“I laughed and cried in equal measure and dare anybody not to fall in love with Sunshine and her effervescent family.”

Linton says this debut – and its follow-up, Sunshine Simpson Cooks Up A Storm – is inspired by her parents, who arrived in Britain from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation in the 1950s.

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