In this booklist, we look at a selection of children’s books to use in the classroom for teaching elements of Black History that are unique to the UK.
With Black History Month gaining increasing interest each year, we often receive an influx of requests for books that celebrate Black lives and that explore Black history both in the UK and around the globe. These books can be used for Black History Month, when many schools and families dedicate time to research Britain’s Black history and to find out more about particular Black people from the past. We believe these books are just as important all year round, too – and you can see our full Black Lives & Black History booklist here.
But increasingly, schools are telling us that the books they have gathered for teaching Black History have an imbalance towards US Black history. While a global perspective is not only important but also thoroughly entwined with British history, where are the books that focus specifically on Black history in the UK?
Author David Olusoga explains that one of the reasons for the apparent imbalance is because Black History Month is a US import – and when an American tradition is imported then so is much of its resource content. Another reason, Olusoga argues, is that it is uncomfortable to look at the more unsavoury parts of our own history, so we tend to focus the beam abroad. Olusoga explains that “The issue is that any proper debate about black history inevitably entails discussions of parts of the British past – slavery, imperialism, the development of racial thinking – that have long been brushed under the historical carpet. This means that once a year black Britons become the delivery system for parts of British history that many people are deeply uncomfortable discussing.”
There is a growing call from teachers to source children’s books that examine British Black History and – slowly, slowly – a response from publishers is beginning to emerge. For balance and a widening of context, you may also like to explore books that celebrate black communities or the lives of key Black British figures. If the only historical studies of black history that pupils encounter relate to struggle or slavery, this will allow for only a narrow segment of Black history to be covered – potentially resulting in prejudicial misconceptions and occurring at the cost of opportunities to learn about the rich and diverse cultural fabric of the UK or the accomplishments of particular communities and individuals. For further ideas, you may wish to look at the Black Lives section of our Black Lives and Black History booklist to find individual figures to study.