"This thorough, thought-provoking account of the British Empire will revolutionise the way children engage with history, reflect on our present-day world, and their think about their futures"
November 2023 Book of the Month
What a brilliant book. Engaging, illuminating, and an invaluable toolkit for understanding Britain, the world, and for shaping the future, Shelina Janmohamed’s Story of Now looks set to shake up how young readers understand Britain, and the value of understanding the past more generally.
Framed in the context of not being a history book — rather, it’s about “making sense of the world we live in: who we are, what is our place in it, how did we come to be the people we are, and what does this all mean for our future?” — Story of Now reveals the impact of the British Empire across the entire world, across classes, across every aspect of life. After examining the reasons countries establish empires (among them wealth, power, influence, control, discovery, subjugation, and safeguarding self-interest), the author traces the 400-year history of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth I’s founding of the East India Company, through to the empire’s on-going legacies.
Janmohamed has a real knack for explaining complex subjects, such as how trade and wealth work, the two stories of slavery (“the story of making money, and the story of the people who were enslaved”), and how Britain’s rich, ruling class — in whose hands the Empire was moulded — manipulated the working class to “overlook their own exploitation.”
The book’s style is akin to listening to a wise, passionate teacher who knows her subject inside out, and knows exactly how to engage young minds. For example, after sharing information and multiple perspectives, Story of Now poses questions, and invites discussions that will spark readers to probe deeper and question how stories are told. In turn, this promotes agile thinking. One powerful example of this comes when readers are asked to consider: “what really was the difference between a privateer and a pirate?” In a word, nothing, expect the plundering activities of the former were sanctioned by the queen!
It’s also packed with memorable facts — some horrifying, some inspiring, and others baffling. For example, children were enslaved in British households from the 16th-century. The 1888 strike of 1400 exploited match girls sparked transformative protests that gave rise to the labour movement. And who knew pineapples once cost the equivalent of £6000 and rich folks rented them for a night to show off to their friends?!
The concluding chapters ask readers to think about what Britishness is, and the countless ways people choose to define Britishness. And then comes an invitation to write your own story, in order “to build our future history.” Honest, enlightening, and perfectly tailored to young readers, Story of Now is an essential read.