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Topic: Black British History

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.

Chapter book

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.

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.

Graphic Novel

The inspirational true story of Walter Tull’s life is vividly presented as a scrapbook, drawing on photographs, documents and records of his life. Born in Kent, in 1888, Walter Tull became not just the first black British professional outfield football player – for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town – but also the first black officer in the British Army. His leadership and courage in the trenches of the First World War won him a recommendation for a Military Cross that was never awarded because of his skin colour. Discover his life story, from his childhood in an orphanage, through his footballing years, to his eventual tragic death, aged 29, on the Somme. The legacy of Walter Tull lives on.

Non-fiction

A short, essential introduction to Black British history for readers of 12+ by award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga.

When did Africans first come to Britain?

Who are the well-dressed black children in Georgian paintings?

Why did the American Civil War disrupt the Industrial Revolution?

These and many other questions are answered in this essential introduction to 1800 years of the Black British history: from the Roman Africans who guarded Hadrian’s Wall right up to the present day.

This children’s version of the bestseller Black and British: A Forgotten History is illustrated with maps, photos and portraits.

Macmillan Children’s Books will donate 50p from every copy sold to The Black Curriculum.

Picturebook

A picture book story about the triumph of hope, love, and determination, Coming to England is the inspiring true story of Baroness Floella Benjamin: from Trinidad, to London as part of the Windrush generation, to the House of Lords.

When she was ten years old, Floella Benjamin, along with her older sister and two younger brothers, set sail from Trinidad to London, to be reunited with the rest of their family. Alone on a huge ship for two weeks, then tumbled into a cold and unfriendly London, coming to England wasn’t at all what Floella had expected.

Coming to England is both deeply personal and universally relevant – Floella’s experiences of moving home and making friends will resonate with young children, who will be inspired by her trademark optimism and joy. This is a true story with a powerful message: that courage and determination can always overcome adversity.

Chapter book

An action-packed and pacey story about a boy’s experience of slavery in Britain.

Nathaniel doesn’t want to move to England with his master’s family, leaving behind his mother and sister on the Jamaican plantation. But then he remembers what his mother told him: once a slave sets foot on English soil, they’re free. Perhaps he can earn his fortune and buy his family’s freedom, too.

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