No catches, no fine print just unconditional book loving for your children with their favourites saved to their own digital bookshelf.
New members get entered into our monthly draw to win £100 to spend in your local bookshop plus lots lots more...Find out more
The books in this section cover a range of PSHE topics including bullying, family issues and racism. There are both fiction and non-fiction titles and cover age ranges from Toddler to Older Teen.
June 2021 Debut of the Month | Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades is an explosively exceptional debut. An incisively subversive, edge-of-your-seat thriller that takes the genre to jaw-droppingly unexpected extremes as it exposes horrific, deep-rooted institutionalised racism. The action centres around an elite high school in the white part of town. It has an all-white student population, except for our two principle characters - musician and scholarship student Devon, and privileged aspiring Yale alumnus Chiamaka. Devon (Von to his proud, hardworking Ma) can’t wear his hair in twists or cornrows here, and Chiamaka, of Nigerian and Italian heritage, feels compelled to hide her natural hair, and has adopted a “kill or be killed” stance - to achieve the success she’s set on, Chiamaka knows she’ll have to be tougher than tough. Devon and Chiamaka are sent reeling when an anonymous texter, Aces, starts revealing their deepest, darkest secrets, and it doesn’t take much to realise why they’re being targeted - the colour of their skin. And so a cruel cat-and-mouse game unfolds - two mice trapped in a destructive nightmare and a malicious cat motivated by racism, with homophobia weaponised too. While there are shocks aplenty (of the rare, ingeniously interwoven variety), the story is compellingly complex, with finely considered character exposition, and no simplified, clear-cut dichotomies drawn between who we can trust, and who should be top of our suspect list. The mounting tension is powerfully palpable, as is the embedded racism Devon and Chiamaka are subjected to - it runs deeper and wider than they (or readers) can possibly anticipate. Turns out, no one can be trusted; that there’s more than one cat in this hideous game. Oh, and there are romantic entanglements too, all of which means Ace of Spades delivers on all fronts - mystery, romance and tackling important issues in explosive style. What more could a reader ask for? *** Find a must-read letter from Faridah to her readers, attached to the extract.
A hugely original story which imaginatively captures the complexity of migration for a child. Having suddenly inherited a house from a relative, Meixing Liam and her family are newly arrived in the New Land to begin a New Life. Everything is confusing. Everything is different and everything seems to be going wrong. Cleverly using a third person voice to tell a first person story, Meixing narrates the practical and emotional swirl of her life in a way that enables readers readily to understand just how baffling a new life is. It also allows Meixing to escape into a magical greenhouse where she can escape into an extraordinary dream world. When the dream world collapses, Meixing finds unexpected help and support which show her the power and importance of friendship even in this strange New Life.
This book is outstanding in its gathering of talent to provide the illustrations to Adeola’s messages. It is a powerful, personal response to the murder of George Floyd and the awakening around the world to the Black Lives Matter movement. It is an honest and very personal letter to Adeola’s younger self, messages he wishes he had seen and heard at a young age, created now for the children of the future. The messages apply to any child – and the illustrations show a diverse range of children and adults; the writing is simple, straightforward and obviously deeply felt, urging children to be themselves, be curious and love the skin you are in. Each double page spread, and the end papers, are all created by one of the eighteen talented black illustrators assembled from all over the world or this book. It is a joy to see so many different yet complementary styles of illustration creating the whole. A book for every classroom and nursery in the country!
The premise of this fascinating book is two teenagers from opposite sides of the world who form a connection through odd circumstances. Natalie has just lost her Mum to cancer and struggles to find a calm place in the world, whilst her brother reacts by rebelling and joining a hate filled far right anti-refugee protest and action group. Sammy has had to leave his home in Eritrea on the chance of a new life in Europe – running from conscription into the army - which is a form of slavery in his home country. Both characters have huge issues to face. Sammy’s seem more obviously dangerous and overwhelming, though Natalie’s are equally as difficult - without the imminent danger. Told through a narrative poem using both voices to alternately express their fears, dilemmas and friendships this is a book you really can’t put down. You have to know if Sammy and Natalie do get to meet. As the plot carries you along you also want to know more about the plight of refugees and the horrific characters that exploit them in many many ways. Natalie’s decision to swim the channel to raise funds for the refugee charities creates a counterpoint in the narrative. The detail of her struggles and training plan seem an unlikely text for poetry - but it works! The author says “I wanted to make sense of what I was seeing, I wanted to do something that would help build empathy and understanding.” She has most emphatically succeeded in this aim. This is such a profound story of hope, grief, and strength - I do recommend it to all. Be aware you will weep, too.
Winner of Book of the Year, Children's: Illustrated and Non-Fiction at The British Book Awards | Shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year 2020 | 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.
Recommended by Stephen L Holland, Guest Editor, June 2021: “I think it’s important to be true to yourself. If something feels wrong you should speak up.” Farai is taken by train by her boyfriend Adam to meet his parents in the countryside. Feeling beholden to their hospitality and trying her hardest to make things work, Farai soon discovers that Adam’s controlling and calculating mother is an all- too-real racist nightmare. With the lushest of lines, form and colour, Kristensen has created something deceptively complex with extraordinary economy that will give readers much to ponder upon.
At once hard-hitting and heart-stirring, Black Brother, Black Brother confirms Jewell Parker Rhodes as an exceptional writer whose work resonates with authenticity, empathy, and powerful truths about race and equality. One of the few black boys at his prestigious school, 7th grader Donte has a hard time of it, to say the least. “I wish I were invisible…Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in whiteness. Most of the students at Middlefield Prep don’t look like me. They don’t like me either.” He’s singled out by teachers, and subjected to racist bullying by his classmates: “You dress thug”. “Your dreads are dreadful.” “Why can’t you be like your brother?” “Can your brother find you in the dark?” The brother in question is Trey, who presents as white and, as a result, occupies a very different place in the world. As Donte is arrested - for nothing - he experiences (yet again) that “Black is not invisible”. So, he resolves to get his own back on the student who got him in trouble, and the best way to do that is to beat the boy at his own game - fencing. Donte’s first-person narrative is pitch-perfect and incredibly powerful, and the brothers’ family life is beautifully portrayed too. Their dad is a computer architect whose family were “poor seafarers from Norway”. Their mom is a social justice lawyer whose family is “descended from captured Africans.” But despite the love and support of his brother and parents, Donte’s loneliness is powerfully palpable, especially when he’s suspended. This makes his determination to track down and learn from an African American Olympian fencer all the more moving, all the more inspiring. What an incredible tale of triumph and fortitude this is. Mention must also be made of the author’s afterword, in which she lays bare historic and cultural prejudices against darker skin, the falsehood of black/white categories, and her fascinating reasons for featuring fencing.
This short (44 pages) graphic novel on the life and impact of Rosa Parks – the woman known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA - packs in a huge amount of information simply and clearly. The author commented she decided that It’s Her Story: Rosa Parks would celebrate a lifetime of activism versus a single moment. And that she would depict late nights, setbacks, and moments of doubt so that children … learn that while change is possible, it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to put in the work. This book does just that – it shows with commendable brevity the many sides of the struggles that Rosa and the movement in the USA faced. The story develops as a young girl is taken to see an exhibition by her grandmother – who tells her granddaughter the story of Rosa’s life. The novel is a model of brevity but which packs in the information we all need to know and remember about Rosa and her struggles. Illustrator Shane Clester has produced Graphic novels for Marvel and Nick Jnr, as well as publishing his own picture books. A book that needs to be on book shelves – not only in Black History Month. There is a companion graphic book from Sunbird Books, It's Her Story: Marie Curie, a biography of the trailblazing scientist.
March 2021 Book of the Month | Co-written by Brendan Kiely and the always-exceptional Jason Reynolds, All American Boys is an immensely powerful, timely novel about police brutality against young Black men. Shining a stark light on white privilege and the racism implicit in not speaking out, it’s a punch-packing wake-up call for us all to stand up and plant ourselves on the right side of history. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong colour. It all goes wrong for Black sixteen-year-old Rashad when a cop jumps to the unfounded conclusion that he’s shoplifted a bag of chips. Rashad’s arrest is brutal and the cop, Paul, leaves him with internal bleeding and broken bones. There were witnesses though, among them Quinn, a rising basketball star from Rashad’s school who also happens to know Paul. In fact, Paul has been like a father to Quinn since his dad died on service in Afghanistan, which puts him in a tricky situation - speaking out against Paul would sever his friendship and support ties. But Quinn’s decision to keep quiet unravels when footage of the incident is picked up by the media, with everyone in town taking a side. As a powerful “Rashad is absent” school campaign gains momentum along with plans for a big protest march, Quinn realises that not speaking up is a form of racism, that as an “All-American” white boy he can walk away from anything. “Well, I was sick of it,” he decides. “I was sick of being a dick”. Aware that his dad had inspired Paul to become a cop to “make a difference in the world”, Quinn resolves to be like his dad too, but not in the sense of being loyal to his country and family, which is how people always frame his father’s heroism. Quinn means in the sense of standing up for what he believes in; being “someone who believed a better world was possible - someone who stood up for it.” Packed with plenty of moments that will make you melt and tear up (such as Rashad’s relationship with the hospital shop volunteer, and the bonds between him and his buddies and big brother), this is a smart, incisive, rousing read for our times.
A World Book Day 2021 story from Zanib Mian with hilarious cartoon-style illustrations. Laugh out loud with Omar and his amazing imagination! Perfect for fans of Tom Gates and Wimpy Kid. One of Omar's best friends, Daniel, has a little sister who goes to hospital regularly. He usually finds it easy to cheer her up when she's there, but this time he feels he needs to do something extra special. Enter Omar and their other best friend Charlie to help with Operation Kind! The boys try to come up with the perfect surprise for Suzy, and when they find out her favourite author is in the UK for just one day it feels like it was meant to be. Can the boys overcome all of the ridiculous obstacles that get thrown in their path and face their fears, in a race against time to get a signed copy of the book for Suzy?
This book has won several awards in the US, for tackling a difficult and contentious topic. Though to some extent I feel the book rather misses its mark – although the format and the pictures are aimed at toddlers, this is very much a book for carers, teachers and youth leaders to use to open discussions about race. The book simply gives 9 steps to becoming antiracist, all illustrated with big bold, colourful pictures, but in language that is most definitely going to need a mediator for a small child to understand. I was disappointed by the lack of empathy exhibited, with no vocalising of love and respect for everyone, regardless of race. The prompts at the end of the book for discussion and further exploration are very useful and could be the basis of many critical discussions in schools and other appropriate places. The author does acknowledge a great deal of the language used is difficult and provides a good glossary of the main terms used – always a benefit when dealing with terms that could be misinterpreted.
Selected for The Book Box by LoveReading4Kids | This novel, by Birmingham born poet Zephaniah, is the fifth book in the Scholastic Voices series – highlighting the situation and stories behind the myriad of people who have arrived from all over the world to the UK. Leonard’s father is one of the many Jamaican born men who came to Britain at the request of the UK government to help rebuild the country after the second World War. So, when Leonard and his mother arrive in Southampton the 10-year-old had to get to know a father he barely remembers and learn to live in a climate, both physical and social, that was alien to him. This is a carefully written account which does not shirk from exploring the society and the racism that Leonard encounters in his school and in being a part of 50’s and 60’s society in Manchester – where Leonard’s father was a bus driver. It’s aimed at KS2 children and the language, plus seeing everything through Leonard’s often confused eyes makes it a valuable lesson for children to read. The book takes Leonard’s story to the present day where he is one of the Windrush generation who now struggle to prove his right to be in the UK – making this a strong story on which to base vital lessons on the morality of government policies. Highly recommended.
October 2020 Book of the Month | In this brilliant and emotionally gripping sequel to her best-selling debut novel, Dear Martin, the author’s focus shifts to a minor character: Vernell LaQuan Banks Jnr. Unlike Justyce, the hero of the first book who is now a law student at Yale, Quan is incarcerated and charged with the murder of a policeman. In Dear Martin, Justyce wrote letters in his journal to his hero Martin Luther King Jnr to work through his thoughts and vent his frustrations about life as a Black American. Here Quan actually does write to Justyce, inspired by reading that self-same journal and through these and a series of flashbacks his painful story is revealed. From the trauma of witnessing his dad’s brutal arrest and the domestic abuse his mother experiences from her new partner, to taking responsibility for protecting his small step-siblings to the extent of stealing food to feed them, Quan had none of the love and support that helped Justyce overcome the tragedies in the first book. In fact it is the need for a ‘family’ that embroils Quan into joining the Black Jihad and then loyalty to them which keeps his mouth shut about the fact that it was not his gun, left at the scene, which fired the fatal bullet. Through these letters we can really see Quan developing as a character and benefiting from studying with the tutor Justyce sent him. Evaluating himself and how he got there as well as the obvious racial disparities in the criminal justice system and how hopeless the future seems for black youths like him. Eventually the truth about his mental state, his coerced confession and the police procedural failure to gather ballistics evidence is revealed and Justyce launches a legal challenge to get the charges against Quan dropped and, just as importantly, find a way to reconcile him with his family and to be released from obligations to the other ‘family’. This is an unforgettable insight into lives where options and choices are so limited by systemic and institutional racism that despite every effort to the contrary the pathway to prison seems inevitable. In the afterword the author reveals just how many true stories are so authentically reflected here. Dear Justyce is an absolute must read, giving a voice to those who need it the most.
Big, bold and bright, this picture book tells the tale of the red Spots, who live on one side of the hill and avoid at all costs the scary blue Dots who live on the other side of the hill. Wait a minute though, turn it round and it’s actually the tale of the blue Dots, who live on one side of the hill and avoid at all costs the scary red Spots who live on the other side of the hill… Both stories meet in the middle when two babies – a Spot and a Dot – get lost and meet up, only to discover that everything their parents and grandparents believe is wrong. Layout, illustrations and the deliciously clever structure of the story as it proceeds from two different starting points – and two different ends of the book – to reach exactly the same place, serve to point out the absurdity of the Dots’ and Spots’ position. Even the youngest readers will understand exactly what the moral of it all is (once they’ve stopped laughing). Helen Baugh’s rhyming text is perfect in its conciseness and Marion Deuchars’ illustrations a triumph, each spot and dot a character of its own. This is one to shelve with other ingenious picture books that entertain and delight while imparting wisdom such as Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book, Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ The Little Island and David McKee’s Tusk Tusk.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2021 | October 2020 Book of the Month | Written with luminous, crackling style, Cane Warriors is an unforgettable account of Jamaican and British history that must be known, with an unforgettable narrator at its heart. In the words of fourteen-year-old Moa, “the hope of our dreamland churned in my belly,” a powerful statement that pulses through this extraordinary story of Tacky’s War. Based on a revolutionary real-life 1760 Jamaican slave rebellion, a visceral sense of the atrocities Moa and his fellow field slaves are subjected to is evoked from the start. Their bodies are lashed and “roasted by a brutal sun”, Moa hasn’t seen his house-slave mama for three years, his papa lost an arm in mill machinery, and his friend Hamaya fears the day predatory white men will “come for me.” Spurred by the death of Miss Pam who “drop inna da field and lose her life”, and led by Miss Pam’s brother Tacky, who “trod like a king” and whose brain “work quick like Anancy”, the uprising hinges on the freedom fighters killing the plantation master. While Moa is glad to be given a pivotal role in the rebellion, he fears that success and escape will mean he’ll never see his parents or Hamaya again - his conflict is palpable, but he’s set on being a cane warrior. Outside the plantation, Moa’s world is immediately transformed, with his life as a freedom fighter evoked in fine detail (I loved the depiction of him tasting creamy, fleshy sweetsop for the first time). There are bloody battles ahead, executed in the presence of Akan gods, and driven by brotherhood and hope for that dreamland. Lucidly lyrical and raw, I cannot praise Cane Warriors enough. Find out more about the YA Book Prize including all the shortlisted titles.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Co-written by award-winning novelist Ibi Zoboi and Dr Yusef Salaam, a prison reform activist, poet and one of the Exonerated Five, Punching the Air is a timely, heartachingly powerful free verse novel. Through its shatteringly succinct lyricism, Amal’s story is a mighty call to action that rouses readers to question the deep-rooted and damaging consequences of racially biased societal systems, while radiating the light and hope of art and Amal himself. Sixteen-year-old Amal is a talented poet and artist, but even at his liberal arts college, he’s victimised by destructive preconceptions, deemed disruptive by people who “made themselves a whole other boy in their minds and replaced me with him.” Amal’s budding life careers off-course when he’s wrongfully convicted of a crime in a gentrified area. Even in the courtroom it feels to him “like everything that I am, that I’ve ever been, counts as being guilty”. Standing before judgemental eyes in his specially chosen grey suit, he’s aware that “no matter how many marches or Twitter hashtags or Justice for So-and-So our mind’s eyes and our eyes’ minds see the world as they want to/Everything already illustrated in black and white.” In the detention centre, Amal considers his African ancestry: “I am shackled again,” he says. “Maybe these are the same chains that bind me to my ancestors. Maybe these are the same chains that bind me to my father and my father’s father and all the men that came before.” He expresses society’s double standards with searing clarity too - Black boys are “a mob/a gang ghetto/a pack of wolves animals/thugs hoodlums men” while white boys “were kids having fun home loved supported protected full of potential boys.” But through the beatings and despair, through anger and frustration, Amal finds solace in the supportive letters he receives from a girl in his school, and his “poet, educator and activist” teacher. By turns soul-stirring and inspiring, this sharp exposure of injustice and testament to the transformative power of art comes highly recommended for readers who love the work of Jason Reynolds and Elizabeth Acevedo. Find a selection of recommended books that celebrate difference in our blog, Diverse Voices.
Set in a perfectly realised East London, the story begins as newly adopted Imtiaz arrives in Usha’s home. Initially misunderstandings abound between the two girls. Sadly, Usha’s beloved gran, Kali Ma has recently passed away. But when first Kali Ma and then other ghosts appear and task the girls to right a past wrong and reveal the hidden secrets of their house, which is also a refugee community centre and under imminent threat of closure, they and their new Roma friend Cosmo must work together. There is rich historical detail in this complex but very rewarding and thought-provoking story crafted in delicate and thoughtful prose. We learn about the fate of Indian Ayahs travelling to care for children of the British Raj on the long voyages back to the UK and then being abandoned here and also about the first female Asian GP’s and the struggles of the Windrush generation. In an interview the author reveals that there has been a recent campaign for a Blue Plaque to commemorate the real-life House of the Ayahs. This is a skilfully woven narrative with a shameful look at just some of the racist colonial attitudes of Britain both past and present and real tension and adventure as the children race to unravel the mystery and save the refuge and a beloved family home.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | A picture-book biography of celebrated poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is known for her poems about real life. She wrote about love, loneliness, family, and poverty-showing readers how just about anything could become a beautiful poem.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | This Middle Grade debut from award-winning YA author Nic Stone (I adored her Dear Martin novel) features one-of-kind characters and true-to-life struggles underpinned by a special relationship between a boy and his grandma, and the segregation history of the American South. It’s also powerful on themes of racism, making amends, and complex family dynamics. In big trouble at school and fearing his dad has lost faith in him, eleven-year-old Scoob has had a rough time of it of late, so the prospect of going on a road-trip with his gloriously willful grandma seems pretty good. Travelling with the Green Book guide that lists ‘safe’ places for African Americans to travel, G’ma takes them to places she and her deceased husband visited on a trip decades ago, though they didn’t make it the whole way. Among these sites are the bombed church where civil rights activists used to gather, including Dr Martin Luther King, and the former home of Medgar Wiley Evers, a black soldier who fought in WWII and came home to fight for civil rights. As their journey progresses, Scoob is increasingly freaked out by G’ma’s actions and state of mind. “Looks like we’re both trying to make a run for it,” she remarks, leading Scoop to anxiously wonder what she’s running from, and what she’s trying to make amends for. During their moving page-turner of a trip, the story reveals how unjust life was for African Americans during segregation, and how hard it was for Scoob’s African American G-pop and white G’ma to be a young married couple. Gripping, moving and informative, this is a wonderfully warm read, and Scoob’s perspective is spot-on for the age-group.
Check out the latest activities in our KidsZone.