Recommended children's booklists sorted by age or topic

Home > The Diverse Book Awards Shortlist

The Diverse Book Awards Shortlist

diverse book awards shortlist

Here at BooksForTopics HQ, we were delighted to be involved in judging the longlist for this year’s Diverse Book Awards. Now in their fourth year, these awards were created by award-winning author Abiola Bello and award-winning publicist Helen Lewis, to highlight the best of the diverse voices published in the UK and Ireland.

We are very excited to share the shortlist for these awards, showcasing the best of the UK and Ireland’s diverse children’s books, and featuring several of our own favourite authors, illustrators and titles.

Among the selected picturebooks are Dadaji’s Paintbrush, a universal story of love and loss in a beautiful Indian setting, which features on our Year 1: 50 Recommended Reads booklist. Also shortlisted is Our Tower by Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho, a modern-day fable about learning to find nature and magic everywhere, which was the BooksForTopics pick for the 2023 Read for Empathy collection.

The Children’s category highlights a BooksforTopics favourite, The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger, which our review panel described as, “…a fantastic mystery story, which could also lead to discussions about race, theatre, slavery and family history.” Author Sangu Mandanna is shortlisted for Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse – a welcome return for one of our favourite characters who first featured on our Diverse & Inclusive Books for Upper KS2 booklist with Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom.

Check out the full shortlist for the 2023 Diverse Book Awards below!

SAVE 20% with Peters

Support independent bookshops

Diverse Book Awards: Picturebooks

Rashmi Sirdeshpande
 & Ruchi Mhasane

Dadaji’s Paintbrush is a sumptuous story of a young boy’s special relationship with his grandfather, set in a small village in India.

This is a beautiful story that deals with the difficult subject of the loss of a grandparent in a gentle and understanding way.  The beautiful Indian setting that will be unfamiliar to many readers highlights the universal experiences of love and loss, showing that no matter where you are, some human experiences unite us all.

The illustrations are simple and beautiful and we particularly liked how the colours linked with the main character’s emotions. We also loved the evocative and sensory setting descriptions in the story – we could almost taste the mangoes!

As well as gently exploring the topic of grief, the story is ultimately filled with hope and draws out the values of art, community and legacy. There’s so much to unpack in this stunning story.

John Agard
 & Sophie Bass
A BEAUTIFULLY EVOCATIVE STORY OF A CHILD'S JOURNEY TO ENGLAND ON BOARD EMPIRE WINDRUSH, FROM AN INTERNATIONALLY CELEBRATED, MULTI-AWARD-WINNING POET AND AN EXTRAORDINARY DEBUT ILLUSTRATOR."you're stepping into history bringing your Caribbean eye to another horizon"With one last hug, Windrush chid waves goodbye to his Caribbean home and sets sail across the ocean to Britain. In this powerful picture book, full of hope and promise, celebrated poet John Agard and illustrator Sophie Bass movingly evoke the journey made by children and their families as part of the Windrush Generation.
Wafa' Tarnowska
 & Vali Mintzi
Forced to take shelter when their Syrian city is plagued with bombings, young Nour and her cousin begin to bravely build a secret underground library. Based on the author’s own life experience and inspired by a true story, Nour’s Secret Library is about the power of books to heal, transport and create safe spaces during difficult times. Illustrations by Romanian artist Vali Mintzi superimpose the colorful world the children construct over black-and-white charcoal depictions of the battered city.
Patrice Lawrence
 & Jeanetta Gonzales
When Paloma goes to visit her family in Trinidad, she doesn’t feel that she fits in. But Tante Janet has a story to tell her: An ancient story of warrior queens and talking drums, of treasures and tales that span thousands of years… a story that Paloma shares in, because her story starts in Africa, too.. Join Tante and her inquisitive niece as they share the story of how her family came to the Caribbean, through the dark days of colonization and slavery, to the emergence of a thriving, contemporary community of many faces, places and successes.
Joseph Coelho
 & Richard Johnson

Our Tower tells the story of three children living in a tower block. Viewing their environment as “concrete and grey”, they decide to seek out the glimpse of green they can see high up from their window.

Finding the tree they have longed to see reveals a secret world of magic. Tumbling deep inside, they find “a world deeper than anything Our Tower has ever seen.” But the most significant discovery is the tree-grown man living within, who opens their eyes to the true magic. With his words, the children see that magic is everywhere, including in their tower. A tower full of love and community.

This is a beautiful story inspired by author Joseph Coelho’s own experience of growing up in a tower block. The new Children’s Laureate brilliantly illustrates the diversity and the incredible sense of community that living in a tower block provides, showing how they are more magical than the boring, hard and grey high-rise flats that dominate urban skylines. The tale brings a message about urbanisation, where there’s a perceived distinction between countryside and urban spaces, yet this reminds us that nature is all around us, wherever we live, and everyone should have access to it.

Every page is a feast for the eyes with stunning and sumptuous illustrations by Richard Johnson. The colours perfectly reflect the mood of the poetic narrative, changing from dull greys to magical purples to vibrant, magical technicolour.

As always, the talent of Joseph Coelho’s writing expertly combines writing in verse and poetry with inspiring rich vocabulary.

Helen Cooper
 & Gill Smith
A poetic, powerful story about a little brother and a big sister finding a new home and new hope after being rescued from a boat lost in the dark sea. A little brother and his big sister try their best to settle in a new home, where they have nothing left from before except each other. The little one makes new friends and quickly learns to laugh again but his sister remains haunted by the shadows of their past and hides away in their broken house. Trying to help his sister, the little one catches a butterfly for her and brings it inside the house. His sister knows that she needs to set the butterfly free ... but that would mean going outside. In taking the first steps to face her fears and save the butterfly, she also begins the process of saving herself.
Manjeet Mann
 & Amanda Quartey
A beautifully lyrical and empowering picture book about the importance of dreaming big, from award-winning author Manjeet Mann and the exceptionally talented debut illustrator, Amanda Quartey.Small lived in a small house. She had a small room with a small window and at night she slept in a small bed with a too small blanket.Despite being small, Small had BIG dreams.In Small’s world, everything is small – her shoes, her bed, everything. But her dreams are big. And Small discovers that when you dream big, anything – and everything – can happen.Small’s Big Dream is the first picture book from Manjeet Mann, with artwork by exciting debut illustrator Amanda Quartey. Manjeet Mann is the author of the Costa Children’s Book Award winning The Crossing and critically acclaimed and Carnegie-shortlisted Run, Rebel.
Jordan Stephens
 & Beth Suzanna
A heart-warming, fresh and original story about family and friendship from brand-new picture book author, writer and performer Jordan Stephens.Sunny loves jigsaw puzzles – the bigger the better. When she completes one, she gets a warm, happy honeybee buzz. One day, her Gran gives her a ONE-THOUSAND-PIECE puzzle. Piece after piece, all by herself, she puts together the picture, until … DISASTER! The final piece is missing. Sunny may be small, but she is very determined – so she sets off to find it.As the day whizzes by in a whirl of new places and friends, Sunny discovers that looking for something is every bit as fun as finding it, and that perhaps the missing piece was there all along …
Juno Dawson
 & Laura Hughes
The sparklingly funny debut picture book from Juno Dawson, bestselling writer and activist.Sometimes people say to me: ‘What happened to your brother, Bill?’ That’s when I look them in the eye and say: ‘Hun, you need to chill.’When Bill can’t be found at school one day, the imaginations of the other children run wild. Is he on holiday? Is he lost in the park? Has he been eaten by a shark?! It’s up to Bill’s sister to explain…Juno Dawson’ debut picture book is a witty and fun-filled rhyming story about family, identity and allyship. Bold, joyful and warm-hearted, its message of love and inclusivity shines through on every page.

Diverse Book Awards: Children's Books

Aisha Bushby
Chapter book
A magical middle grade book about family, friendship and finding your place, with a delicate touch of magic. Perfect for 10-12 year olds and fans of Jacqueline Wilson, Michelle Harrison and Kiran Millwood-Hargrave and The Girl Who Speaks Bear.Hazel’s new life in England should have been the stuff of fairy tales; after all her Great Aunt’s cottage looked just like a gingerbread house, with a magical garden and whispering fireflies promising quests and adventures.But as Hazel struggles to deal with the challenges of the everyday world –⁠ making friends, missing her family –⁠ she also learns that every fairy tale has a dark side. And there are terrifying creatures that lurk in the shadows . . .
Varsha Shah
 & Sonia Albert
Chapter book
A high-stakes adventure story full of heart from debut author Varsha Shah, featuring charming illustrations from Sònia Albert and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2023.Abandoned on the Mumbai railways, Ajay has grown up with nothing but a burning wish to be a journalist.Finding an abandoned printing press, he and his friends Saif, Vinod, Yasmin and Jai create their own newspaper: The Mumbai Sun.As they hunt down stories for their paper, the children uncover corruption, fight for justice and battle to save their slum from bulldozers.But against some of the most powerful forces in the city, can Ajay and his friends really succeed in bringing the truth to light? Not to mention win the most important cricket match ever...A high-stakes adventure story full of heart, written against the backdrop of modern India: Emil and the Detectives meets Slumdog Millionaire.Winner of the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2020.Wonderfully illustrated by Sònia Albert and starring a lovable ensemble cast of characters.Tackles tough topics such as social justice and truth in journalism with a lightness of touch.
Remi Blackwood
Chapter book
The first book in a major new series: FUTURE HERO - featuring high-octane adventure, perfect for fans of Black Panther!Destiny is Calling...When Jarell discovers that the fantasy world he is obsessed with doodling is actually real, he is launched into an incredible adventure.Ulfrika, the land of his ancestors, is in trouble and he is the hero they need.With the help of brave and wise-cracking Kimisi, Jarell must stop the evil Ikala. The future of Ulfrika depends on it...A winning blend of future tech gadgets and a fantasy world inspired by the mythology of Africa and its diaspora.Jarell, an ordinary boy who loves to draw, is the chosen one to save the world of Ulfrika.Told in accessible short chapters, filled with action and humour, this is a fun fast-paced adventure - with plenty more books in the series coming soon!
Sangu Mandanna
Chapter book
Kiki Kallira can bring her drawings to life...but when a mysterious curse threatens her newly-created kingdom and friends, how can she use her powers to save them? A fantasy adventure inspired by Hindu legends about anxiety, creativity and finding your own strengths. For 8+ fans of Abi Elphistone and The Land of Roar.Fresh from the exciting discovery that the beautiful kingdom and band of rebel kids she drew in her sketchbook exists in another world, Kiki Kallira has an unexpected visitor. One of the rebels has come into the real world to ask for her help - the river Kaveri that is Mysore's only source of water has suddenly vanished! With no water to drink or grow food, Kiki's kingdom is doomed.When drawing a new river doesn't work, Kiki returns to Mysore and stumbles upon the origin of the Kaveri: a princess from long ago who was transformed into water by a terrible curse! It's up to Kiki and her friends to restore the river without sacrificing the princess again. With her mounting anxiety, enemies seeking to stop her and a city growing weaker by the minute, Kiki's confidence falters.Will she be able to unravel the curse and save her kingdom before it's too late?
Janelle McCurdy
Chapter book
Beware of the shadows, the Reaper King is coming . . .Mia always dreamed of being an umbra tamer until she met the wild creature on the Nightmare Plains. Since that day, she prefers to stay safe within the walls of Nubis. Safe, that is, until a surprise attack. With her parents captured, Mia's only hope is to travel to the City of Light to find help. But with only her little brother, two friends and one solitary tamed umbra, the journey feels impossible. Mia not only has to overcome her fears, she also has to learn to harness her umbra taming abilities if they are to complete the quest in time.For fans of Amari and the Night Brothers, The Legend of Podkin One-Ear and Nevermoor, this is the first in the sensational Umbra Tales series, illustrated by Ana Latese.

Rachel Faturoti
Chapter book
For fans of ONWARD and A Monster Calls, this is an unmissable illustrated story about grief and love for young readers 9 and up.Sadé has always loved escaping to her imaginary, rainbow-bright world. When her mum dies, the colours in her mind fade like old jeans, and her shadow beasts appear: Tiger with black claws, Hen with cracked feathers, Fox with giant hind legs and Lion with piercing blue eyes.The shadow beasts are trouble. They follow Sadé to school and cause chaos wherever they go. Then Sadé joins a grief support group to work through her emotions, and slowly her beasts retreat.But just as it's her turn to perform her poetry at the school talent show, they're back, larger and stronger than ever ... can Sadé find the words to remember her mum in her own unique way, and banish her shadow beasts for good?
J. T. Williams
 & Simone Douglas
Chapter book

The first book in the ‘Lizzie and Belle Mysteries’ series sees the young best friends and amateur detectives use their skills to investigate odd goings-on in a theatre, which in turn reveals further mysteries and crimes which they must solve.

Set in Georgian London, this book illuminates the multiracial history of Britain, and the struggles and injustices faced by Black people in a place where many powerful people thrived on keeping slavery alive. It also demonstrates that White people had an important role, as well as responsibility, to offer support to Black anti-slavery activists and to challenge the White slave owners of the time. Many of the characters and events in this book are based on real people and things that happened, and there is a lot of scope to research real stories. The real Elizabeth Sancho was daughter of the African-British writer and abolitionist Ignatius Sancho. Dido Belle was the daughter of Maria, an enslaved young African woman, and John Lindsay – captain in the British Royal Navy.

This is a fantastic mystery story, which could also lead to discussions about race, theatre, slavery and family history.

Author JT Williams also visited our blog to discuss the role of fiction in bringing history to life for children.

Lisette Auton
Chapter book
A stunning literary adventure from an incredible debut talent, perfect for fans of Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Cerrie Burnell and Katherine Rundell.I was Haven Point's first Wreckling, but I certainly wasn't the last. There are forty-two of us now, not including the mermaids. When you're a Wreckling, you mainly spend your days squabbling, eating and planning adventures. Oh, and Wrecklings also carry out wreckings, which is how we got our name . . .Washed up as a baby beside a remote lighthouse and raised by a mermaid, Alpha Lux was the first foundling at Haven Point. Now the lighthouse is a ramshackle home for any disabled person who needs somewhere to belong. Looting from passing ships to make a living, they call themselves the Wrecklings, and for the children of Haven Point life is spent adventuring on the wild shore (and getting into trouble with the grown-ups).But when Alpha spots a strange light up on the headland, she realizes that her beloved family are in danger of being discovered by Outsiders.With their home under threat, the Wrecklings must decide what kind of future they want . . . and what they're willing to do to get it.
Sana Rasoul
Chapter book
Longlisted for The Juniper Book Award 2023. Beware the Twig Man, the Twig Man's hex. Beware the Twig Man, or you'll be NEXT! It's been a year since nearly-twelve-year-old Ari's older sister, Lana, ran away. Except Ari knows what really happened. She was taken by the Twig Man, the creepy monster that's haunted the woods for one hundred years. No one else will listen, so it's down to Ari to save his sister. But he had better hurry, as Ari finds himself next on The Twig Man's list...

SAVE 20% with Peters

Support independent bookshops

More information about the awards can be found on The Diverse Book Awards website.

Read about the 2023 winners over on our blog. 

Booklists you might also like...

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your Review

Stone Girl Bone Girl


Year group(s) the book is most suitable for:

Year group(s) the book is most suitable for:

Does the book contain anything that teachers would wish to know about before recommending in class (strong language, sensitive topics etc.)?

Does the book contain anything that teachers would wish to know about before recommending in class (strong language, sensitive topics etc.)?

Would you recommend the book for use in primary schools?


Curriculum links (if relevant)

Curriculum links (if relevant)

Any other comments

Any other comments