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Black British History

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Recommended Children’s Books about Black British History

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 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 (whose book Black and British we recommend on this list) explains that one of the reasons for the apparent imbalance is that 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 History booklist to find individual figures to study.

Schools can purchase a full set of the books on this list from Peters.

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Children's Picturebooks about Black British History

Baroness Floella Benjamin
 & Diane Ewen
Picturebook

Baroness Floella Benjamin offers her own story of the 6000-mile journey from Trinidad to England, told for the youngest children in a picture book called Coming to England – An Inspiring True Story About the Windrush Generation.

The story explores and celebrates what it means to be a British person with Black Caribbean heritage, as well as opening doors to learning about the impact of Operation Windrush and experiences of racism. Speaking about the background to the book, Baroness Floella says,”Britain has always been a nation that’s evolved due to different races coming in, from as far back as you can go. I hope Coming to England makes people of colour feel worthy, appreciated and that they belong and that it makes white people say, ‘That could be me, what would it be like if I moved somewhere else?’.”

David Olusoga & Jake Alexander
 & Melleny Taylor
Non-fiction

This new illustrated children’s edition of David Olusoga’s account of Black British history is an essential book for schools – not only as an accessible and informative non-fiction read for KS2, but also as a book that I would thoroughly recommend for improving primary teachers’ own historical subject knowledge and especially those with input into their school’s curriculum design. As expressed perfectly by Lavinya Stennett (CEO of the Black Curriculum) in the Afterword, ‘This book is a testimony to the rich experiences of Black people of Britain in different periods of our history, and a reminder of the dearth of Black history in our curriculums.’

In the book, Olusoga explains the overlooked history of Black people in Britain from Roman times to the present day. Readers may be surprised to imagine the multiculturally diverse make-up of Roman Britain – and indeed to question why sources of history in primary schools may paint a historically misrepresentative picture of Roman society. Equally interesting is the development of notions of race throughout the periods of history, as the book walks chronologically through key eras. Did you know that it was only during the time of James I that the term ‘white’ was used as a description of racial identity, or that long after the abolition of slavery, the Victorians were propagating their own racist theories to justify profiting from slave-powered commerce?

The new illustrated version adds an impressive visual element with full-colour illustrations, maps, portrait galleries, timelines, and photographs. This edition makes the history behind the book accessible to a younger audience still and makes for a highly recommendable and informative non-fiction read.

Recommended Chapter Books about Black British History

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.

Catherine Johnson
 & Katie Hickey
Chapter book Dyslexia-friendly

Olaudah Equiano was cruelly snatched from his home in Essaka, Africa, aged only 11, in 1756. Initially taken with his older sister, Ifeoma, they soon became separated. Olaudah never heard from her again. From there he was taken to England, first enduring a long voyage where he was treated horribly, along with the other slaves. He was sold several times before being taken to America to be a house slave. The master was cruel and the slaves were too scared to even speak to each other. Next he was bought by an English naval officer and taken to sea. Here he finally made friends and began to learn to read and write, as well as experiencing many adventures and great peril.

Olaudah’s story does not end there. He is bought and sold a couple more times before he is taken to the West Indies. Here he sees a chance of freedom. It turns out he has a flair for business and becomes his master’s trusted slave. Working hard, he finally earns enough money to buy his freedom and returns to England as a free man. Here he wrote a book about his experiences and worked hard in the campaign against slavery.

This is an incredible true story, vividly brought to life by Catherine Johnson. It would be a brilliant addition to any UKS2 or KS3 classroom, especially if studying slavery. A difficult subject matter sensitively brought to life for children.

Catherine Johnson
Chapter book

Catherine Johnson scooped the Little Rebels Award in 2019 with this short, middle-grade chapter book about the historical horrors of slavery.

The story follows a young boy called Nat, who is enslaved on a Jamaican plantation. When Nat is brought to England in the 1700s, he hopes to finally find freedom from bondage. Instead, Nat discovers the disappointing truth that slavery is still very much alive in England – and he witnesses the heavy role that Britain plays in operating the slave trade.

Little Rebels Judge Darren Chetty comments that the story “explores the humanity of those whose humanity was denied through chattel slavery. It subtly examines the similarities and the differences between class oppression and a system of slavery rooted in racism. It tells a story of Britain that continues to be neglected.”

While the main character is fictional, the details of the story are very much rooted in historical events and features real-life people and places. We recommend this book as a go-to for upper KS2 classes learning about Britain’s role in the slave trade. Teachers are likely to find very helpful the informative historical notes at the end of the book.

Bali Rai
Chapter book
A gripping adventure in an exciting new series reflecting the authentic, unsung stories of our past!Now or Never brings a young soldier, Private Fazal Khan, from his home in India to the battlefields of the Second World War.Fazal's world is now focused on Company 32 and the animals he cares for in the midst of one of the most frightening times in history. And as he and his friends make their way to the beaches of Dunkirk, Fazal must deal with even more than the terrors of a dangerous trek to reach the evacuation zone.The Company's captain defends his troops in the face of a terrible betrayal at the point of rescue: not everyone has welcomed the help brought by the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. Now Fazal is forced to question why he is even there and why he is expected to be loyal to a king whose people don't all see him as their equal.
Leila Rasheed
Chapter book

Empire’s End: A Roman Story is part of the VOICES series that celebrates the lives of BAME protagonists during key eras of British history. This book tells the tale of a young North African girl who sets out on a danger-filled journey to Britain during Roman times. This is a gripping adventure that offers a new perspective into the myriad of Roman narratives shared in schools and is full of details that immerse readers in knowledge of life in Roman times. The story helps to develops an understanding of the Roman world as one that was full of many different cultures, religions and ethnicities.


E. L. Norry
Chapter book

Son of the Circus: A Victorian Story, tells the story of Ted, the mixed-race son of Pablo Fanque (the first recorded black circus owner in Britain) and his introduction to life with the circus. This exciting story explores racial prejudice in the Victorian period as well as the culture and history of the circus.

The story is engagingly written and the struggles of the main character feel real as his story develops. The fact that Pablo’s struggles and tribulations were true makes the story even more emotive.

The book raises lots of questions and teaching points. The idea that a son was expected to continue a family trade (and the pressure that may bring), the way different races were viewed and treated in the past and the choices children get to make (or not make) as they are forced to move and change. The story would appeal to readers interested in historical stories and the links with the Greatest Showman may make it accessible to those who would not immediately choose it from the shelf.

This is a gripping adventure that examines attitudes to race in the Victorian period.

Patrice Lawrence
Chapter book

Part of the ‘Voices’ series, which celebrates the experiences of BAME figures in British history, Diver’s Daughter gives a unique perspective into life in Tudor times. Eve and her mother start the story in South London. Eve’s mother was stolen from Mozambique as a child and the story offers insight into the lives of black families in England during this time. Patrice Lawrence paints a vivid picture of life within the cramped and dirty London streets, which transports the reader into Tudor times. The action moves from London to the South Coast and brings in the story of the sinking of the Mary Rose, as well as the fascinating lives of the divers who went to search for its treasures​.​

Catherine Johnson
1720. Blue Mountains, windward Jamaica. In the sweltering heat Captain Shettlewood leads a troop of British soldiers through the thick trees towards the river. They are hunting slaves who have escaped from the brutal plantations. Their mission: to find them, and kill them.But up ahead, hidden among the rocks above the water, a group of men with cutlasses and muskets wait patiently for the instructions of their leader. Queen Nanny is a 'wise woman' with a reputation for ancient obeah magic, and a guerilla fighter with a genius for organisation. So the battle for Jamaica begins, the First Maroon War, in which the maroons - escaped slaves - will make a final, do-or-die stand against the slavers and soldiers of Empire.
Michaela Morgan
 & Karen Donnelly
Chapter book
Tully and his brother don't have much. But they do have each other. And Tully has an amazing talent. Football. But when the First World War begins, Tully must fight for respect on the battlefield not the pitch ... Based on the amazing true story of Walter Tull, a First World War hero and one of the first black British professional football players. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 8+

Children's Books about Windrush

Benjamin Zephaniah
Chapter book

This masterpiece is written by Benjamin Zephaniah, and it delivers a powerful story about what it was like to be part of the Windrush Generation. Based on real events of the time, this fictional story features Leonard – a boy who was born in Jamaica and grew up in England.
We first meet Leonard when he is a child in his native Jamaica, living with his mother and grandmother, surrounded by the sea. The women in his life have instilled a deep sense of his Carribean heritage and history, teaching him the stories that have verbally been handed down through generations…

Floella Benjamin
 & Joelle Avelino
Chapter book Non-fiction
The 25th anniversary edition of Baroness Floella Benjamin's classic memoir, Coming to England. With a foreword by the author and some additional historical information, this is the incredible story of Floella's journey from Trinidad to London, as part of the Windrush generation, to the House of Lords. It is gloriously illustrated throughout by Joelle Avelino, perfect for readers aged 9+.Floella Benjamin was just a young girl when she, her sister and two brothers arrived in England in 1960 to join their parents, whom they had not seen for fifteen months. They had left their island home of Trinidad to make a new life in London – part of a whole generation of West Indians who were encouraged to move to Britain and help rebuild the country after the Second World War.Reunited with her mother, Floella was too overwhelmed at first to care about the cold weather and the noise and dirt from the traffic. But, as her new life began, she was shocked and distressed by the rejection she experienced. She soon realized that the only way to survive was to work twice as hard and be twice as good as anyone else.This inspirational story is a powerful reminder of how courage and determination can overcome adversity.
Dame Floella Benjamin, K. N. Chimbiri, E. L. Norry & Judy Hepburn
Short story collection
Explore the lives of the Windrush generation in this full-colour anthology. With a foreword from Baroness Floella Benjamin, DBE.This book presents 12 moving tales of sacrifice and bravery, inspired by first-hand accounts of the Windrush generation."Home ain't jus' where you live. Home is your heart an' yer history."Each inspiring story helps to bring the real experience of Black British people into focus.Produced in partnership with Black Cultural Archives to honour the Windrush generation.Includes ten photo-packed fact sections.The contributors: K. N. Chimbiri, Kevin George, Salena Godden, Judy Hepburn, Ashley Hickson-Lovence, Kirsty Latoya, Katy Massey, E. L. Norry, Quincy the Comedian, Jermain Jackman. With cover art by Joelle Avelino.Black Cultural Archives is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of Black people in Britain.50p from every copy sold goes to BCA.
K. N. Chimbiri
Chapter book
The story before the scandal. A book to celebrate the inspiring legacy of the Windrush pioneers.In June 1948, hundreds of Caribbean men, women and children arrived in London on a ship called the HMT Empire Windrush. Although there were already Black people living in Britain at the time, this event marks the beginning of modern Black Britain.Combining historical fact with voices from the Windrush Generation, this book sensitively tells the inspiring story of the Windrush Generation pioneers for younger readers.

Children's Non-Fiction Books about Black British History

Michaela Morgan
Graphic Novel

This scrapbook walks through the story of Walter Tull – famous Tottenham Hotspurs footballer and the first black officer in the British Army. Walter – or ‘Tully’ as he was known – was brought up in a children’s home before being scouted for his talent by Clapham FC, where he began his footballing career. As WW1 broke out, Tully joined the British army during a time when many people believed that only white men should become officers. His bravery and leadership in the battlefields of WW1 won him a recommendation for a Military Cross – but it is suggested that the award was never given because of the racial prejudice prevalent in the British army at the time.

Walter’s story is visually and informatively brought to life in this fictionalised scrapbook that is designed to appear as if put together by Walter himself. The scrapbook incorporates illustrations, letters, photographs, notes and newspaper cuttings.

By the same author there is also Respect: The Walter Tull Story, a short chapter book retelling of Walter Tull’s life and accomplishments, published by Barrington Stoke. For a more in-depth study of Walter Tull, we recommend the 6-lesson scheme of work from The Historial Association, which is available to download with a free account.

David Olusoga
Non-fiction

This children’s version of David Olusoga’s account of Black British history is essential reading – not only as an accessible and informative non-fiction read for Upper KS2, but also as a book that I would thoroughly recommend for improving primary teachers’ own historical subject knowledge and especially those with input into their school’s curriculum design. As expressed perfectly by Lavinya Stennett (CEO of the Black Curriculum) in the Afterword, ‘This book is a testimony to the rich experiences of Black people of Britain in different periods of our history, and a reminder of the dearth of Black history in our curriculums.’ Why not commit to reading it together as a staff team – or choose a section that matches up to your most recent history topic for your class to study this month?

In the book, Olusoga explains the overlooked history of Black people in Britain from Roman times to the present day. Readers may be surprised to imagine the multiculturally diverse make-up of Roman Britain – and indeed to question why sources of history in primary schools may paint a historically misrepresentative picture of Roman society. Equally interesting is the development of notions of race throughout the periods of history, as the book walks chronologically through key eras. Did you know that it was only during the time of James I that the term ‘white’ was used as a description of racial identity, or that long after the abolition of slavery, the Victorians were propagating their own racist theories to justify profiting from slave-powered commerce?

An illustrated version (Black and British: An Illustrated History) aimed at ages 6-8 is also available.

DK
Non-fiction

Writer of the foreword, Mireille Harper, loved listening to the empowering stories of inspirational Black People that her mother told her growing up. But where are these people in most mainstream or school history books? Erased, ignored, forgotten, omitted?

This important book seeks to begin to redress the imbalance in written history, where very often, significant contributions by black men and women have been overlooked and marginalised.

Through vibrantly designed and graphically stunning double-page timeline spreads, we learn about inspiring, powerful, talented and world-changing figures such as Mansa Musa, Taytu Betul, Mary Seacole and Nelson Mandella. We meet inspirational black men and women from the fields of music, dance, engineering, mathematics, politics and sport, as well as Ancient African rulers and present day activists.

The journey of the US Civil Rights Movement is portrayed over several pages through the book – from those who spent their lives working to abolish slavery, through to Martin Luther King Junior and today’s activists who continue the fight for Black Lives Matter. We also learn how gifted writers such as Maya Angelou and Stormzy have used their creative voices to highlight injustice and inspire change.

We travel around the world – from African Empires, to the Caribbean, the USA and the UK – learning about the lives and values of these significant individuals. Each fascinating double page timeline is completely different in design, and through facts, quotes and images, marks key aspects of each person’s life story, shows their success and resilience in the face of adversity and demonstrates their enduring legacy.

Dan Lyndon-Cohen
Non-fiction
Throughout the brutal history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade that took place between the 16th and 19th centuries, Africans resisted enslavement at different times and in many ways. This book looks at the struggle for freedom and the key events in the build up to the abolition of slavery. The Black History series brings together a wide range of events and experiences from the past to promote knowledge and understanding of black culture today. This book looks at the struggle for freedom and the key events in the build up to the abolition of slavery.
Lania Narjee, The Black Curriculum CIC
 & Chanté Timothy
Non-fiction

“Legacies: Black British Pioneers” is an engaging and thought-provoking children’s book by author Lania Narjee and illustrator Chante Timothy, embarking on an inspiring exploration of Black British History. This bold, colourful work tells the stories of the trailblazers, innovators, and champions that have helped shape Britain, many of whom have previously been overlooked in mainstream education. Narjee’s writing harmoniously pairs with Timothy’s vibrant illustrations to bring each figure to life, navigating through four significant domains: The Arts, STEM, Sport, and Politics & Social Justice.

From the medical advancements of Dr Cecil Belfield Clark to the ground-breaking music of Evelyn Dove and Arlo Parks, from athletes like Maurice Burton to activists Olive Morris and Claudia Jones, the book weaves a rich tapestry of Black British contribution and achievement in these areas. Contemporary figures such as Stormzy and Marcus Rashford also feature, bridging the past and the present and highlighting the enduring legacy of Black British pioneers.

The foreword by Lewis Hamilton adds a personal touch to the narrative, further cementing the book’s relevance and connection with today’s world. Aimed at children aged 8 and above, “Legacies: Black British Pioneers” maintains an accessible tone without compromising the depth of its content, presenting the information clearly and in an engaging format to facilitate independent learning and classroom discussions. The book also serves as a catalyst for change and a celebration of Black British heritage. Its empowering message is a stepping stone for children to discover, learn, and be inspired. This book is an invaluable addition to any library, classroom, or personal bookshelf, filling a crucial educational gap and providing a much-needed resource for teachers and students.


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