The following resources are intended for parents, carers, educators and everyone who takes an interest in decolonising educational resources for children. The list has been compiled by Sapna Agarwal for an Upending conversation on the 9th of July 2020, hosted by Enough! Scotland with support from the Centre for Human Ecology.
You can watch Sapna’s full talk here.
Here you can find more information about the event, Sapna and her recommendations of resources for very young children.
Below Sapna shares her recommendations for primary and secondary aged children consisting of chapter books, comics, TV programmes and podcasts.
It’s really only a tiny selection of what’s out there but are things that have jumped out as either refreshing or empowering in some way. – Sapna Agarwal
Chapter Books for Primary Aged Children
Anna Hibiscus – Atinuke, 6 years+
There are many, many Anna Hibiscus books both as picture books and short, early reader chapter books. Written by Nigerian-born story teller Atinuke, the stories follow a young child, Anna Hibiscus on her adventures. Anna is part of a mixed race family living in “amazing Africa”. The same author has written amonther series called “The No.1 Car Spotter” which follows Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, the no.1 car spotter in his rural village in an undisclosed country in Africa. Both series of books are light-hearted and fun and ideal as first chapter books to read alone.
Agent Zaiba Investigates – Annabelle Sami, 6 years+
Ideal for new readers, the text in this story is broken up with numerous illustrations. Zaiba loves to find an excuse to practise being a proper detective so when some diamonds go missing from her cousin’s henna party, she springs into action. A very energetic adventure set in a British Pakistani family.
Lightening Girl – Alesha Dixon, 8 years+
Part of a series of books about 10 year old Aurora Beam who discovers she has secret powers whilst sticking up for her little sister in the school playground. She later learns her mum is secretly a superhero and has to work out how to balance her everyday life with her newfound powers.
Asha and the Spirit Bird – Jasbinder Bilan, 8 years+
The story follows a young girl, Asha, travelling from her home in the foothills of the Himalayas to find her father who has gone to earn some money in a far off city. The subject matter is dark at times but the tone is constantly reassuring and has a magical, fairy tales quality.
The Boy at The Back Of The Class – Onjali Q Rauf, 8 years +
Told from the perspective of a 9-and-nearly-three-quarter year old, The Boy at The Back of the Class follows four friend who tried to befriend and then help the enigmatic new boy who sits at the back of their class. This book expertly explores difficult issues around the refugee crisis, losing a parent and navigating the confusing world of politics in an entirely age appropriate way. There is such humour and tenderness throughout.
For upper primary, many of the books featuring characters of colour, disabled characters and LGBT characters are issues based. While this can be helpful, it’s also necessary for children to read stories with diverse characters not simple overcoming barriers. My children have found that crime fiction is one genre that seems to do well in terms of representation so our recommendations are quite weighted towards detective stories.
The London Eye Mystery – Siobhan Dowd, 9 years+
In The London Eye Mystery, a brother and sister investigative team try to work out how their cousin took a ride on the London Eye and never came off again. The story focuses on the plot rather than the leader character’s Asperger’s diagnosis.
The Guggenheim Mystery – Robin Stevens, 9 years+
The same cousin and siblings team of Kat, Ted and Salim from the The London Eye Mystery appear in the Guggenheim Mystery where Ted’ Aunt Gloria is framed for the theft of a painting from the museum. The children set off to crack the case and prevent their aunt from being sent to prison.
High Rise Mystery – Sharna Jackson, 9 years+
This is the first in a series of whodunnit mysteries set in The Tri, a high-rise in London told from the perspective of an 11 year old. Our detectives are Nik and Norva, two black sisters, following clues to solve the crime.
George – Alex Gino, 10 years+
Melissa wants to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web. But as a closeted trans girl, her teachers don’t understand why, and won’t let her. She and her best friend Kelly hatch a plan.
Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies – Sita Bramachari, 11 years+
Artichoke Hearts and its sequel, Jasmine Skies, follow Mira, a mixed-race child in London entering puberty and navigating the challenges that come with it. Friendship, romance, a bereavement and getting to know family in India are explored with real tenderness.
Chapter books for secondary aged young people
Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman, 12 years+
Malorie Blackman has written numerous books with BAME characters for new readers to young adults but her most well-known series, and most likely to be found in any high school library is the Noughts and Crosses series. The population is divided into two: the white Noughts are second-class citizens, and the black Crosses are highly-revered and perceived as the superior race. 15-year-old Callum is a Nought, and his best friend, Sephy, as well as being a Cross, is also the daughter of one of the most influential politicians in the country.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas, 12 years+
Although recommended for 12 years+ this is a great book for adults to read too. Starr is the only witness to her friend, Khalil’s murder by a police officers. She has to decide whether to use her voice to fight for justice and at what cost. A brilliant exploration of race in America.
On the Come up – Angie Thomas, 12 years+
On the Come Up is an inspiring coming-of-age story following Bri, an aspiring rapper, daughter of a murdered father, living in a tough American neighbourhood. At school, she’s been defined as “trouble” and her mum, a former drug addict, is struggling to pay the bills after losing her job. Life is tough and when Bri records her first rap full of anger and guns, it goes viral for all the wrong reasons.
Oh My Gods – Alexandra Sheppard, 12 years+
Helen had expected a few “settling in” issues when she moved south to live with her dad, but actually her new school is great and she makes friends almost straightaway. It’s her family that are the problem. They are all ancient Greek gods. Although the book is essentially witty and slightly absurd, it deals with challenges and experiences that many young people can identify with and celebrates diversity and individuality.
This Book is Anti-Racist – Tiffany Jewell, 12 years+
This book is written for the young person who doesn’t know how to speak up to the racist adults in their life. Written by anti-bias, anti-racist, educator and activist, Tiffany Jewell, and illustrated by French illustrator Aurélia Durand, it is heavly illustrated, colourful and easy to digest. It is written so children and young adults will feel empowered to stand up to the adults who continue to close doors in their faces. This book will give them the language and ability to understand racism and a drive to undo it.
I will Not Be Erased – gal-dem, 13 years+
Fourteen joyous, funny and life-affirming essays from gal-dem, the award-winning magazine created by young women and non-binary people of colour. I wish I could’ve read this as a young person of colour growing up in Britain.
The Million Pieces of Neela Gill – Emma Smith-Barton, 13 years+
The Million Pieces of Neena Gill is a moving portrait of a clever, talented girl who is gradually falling apart and losing her grip on reality, but doesn’t realise it. The story is seen entirely through Neena’s eyes, so the reader only discovers what’s actually going on in her life ‘in real time’. Despite the underlying tragedy, It is ultimately a powerful, uplifting story of family, love, grief and getting through very difficult times.
Orangeboy – Patrice Lawrence, 14 years+
This is a gritty, urban mystery touching on the dangerous reality of drug pushing and young people being forced into dealing. It’s a pacey, crime thriller looking at serious issues without preaching.
Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi, 14 years+
Magic has gone from the world, vanished when Zelie’s mother was violently murdered by the King’s men. Now the Maji clans, marked out by their silver hair, live in constant fear. Zelie longs to rebel, but her chance doesn’t come until she finds herself having to protect a runaway princess, Amari, who is carrying a scroll that can bring magic back to the world. A thriller set in a fantasy world based on African tradition.
A Change is Gonna Come – collection of short stories, 13 years+
Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this is an anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla, Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy.
Watch Us Rise – Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan, 13 years+
Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club.
Older Children / Comics
Ms Marvel, Spiderman (Miles Moralis) and a number of other Marvel superheroes.
A smattering of Marvel superheroes in the last five years have been racially diverse, well-rounded, complex characters. My personal favourite is Kamila Khan as Ms Marvel, a second-generation Pakistani American teenager in New Jersey trying, as so many Marvel heroes do, to work out how to use her powers effectively whilst staying true to herself and her family’s culture.
Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have fun and adventures together. Featuring supernatural elements, gender non-conforming and queer characters plus racial diversity all wrapped up in stories about quests and friendships. This is a growing series of comics and spin-offs.
A series of comics featuring a Black, queer, teenage detective solving mysteries.
Julie is shy and just wants to enjoy a date with her new girlfriend Selena. When a magician casts a horrifying spell on their friend Chet they team up with the rest of their magical community to stop the magician before he can steal more magic. Oh, Julie and Selena are also werewolves, but that doesn’t define them.
In Steven Universe the world is protected from evil by the Crystal gems who have escaped from Homeworld because they were unable to live under the strict world order imposed by the Diamonds who rule it. As well as excellent representation, this programme has great music with each of the main characters assuming a different musical genre. Although there are battles between the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ forces, ultimately the only way to win in Steven Universe is through emotional growth and understanding.
She-ra and the Princesses of Power
A contemporary re-make of the 80’s classic, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is an openly queer cartoon for children of all ages that eschews binaries of all kinds. Even the treatment of good vs’ evil is nuanced and, as with in Steven Universe, emotional growth is what all the characters are constantly working towards.
Set in Wakanda, a small, isolationist, landlocked country in Africa. Two foes conspire to destroy it and superhero Black Panther works with special forces from Wakanda and USA to try and prevent it from being dragged into a world war. Unaccustomed as we are to a majority black cast in a Hollywood action movie, this film is a such a treat in giving viewers a range of complex, three-dimensional, Black characters to watch as well as exploring themes of colonialism and generational trauma.
Whale Rider tells the story of a young Maori girl, Pai, who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Beautifully shot and with incredible performances from the cast, this is such a wonderful film for children and adults alike.
The Unexplained Disappearance of Mars Patel, 8 years+
Eleven-year-old Mars Patel and his pals JP, Toothpick, and Caddie set out on an audacious adventure in search of two missing friends.
Timestorm, 8 years+
The Ventura twins are yanked into another dimension where the meet a distant cousin who gives them an extraordinary mission: travel through time to preserve their culture’s true history.
For my money, Pippi Longstocking will always be one of the great empowering books for children. The Moomin series, too. The Little Prince. Great stories will always be more empowering than trendy books centred around “issues”.