Celebrating Diverse Books: May’s Recommended Reads

Date
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Reading Lists
Author
Mary Lonsdale

An Arts Council report recently revealed that just 1% of children’s books published in the UK had a black or minority ethnic (BAME) main character: a shocking statistic. However, with writers like Susan Darraj determined to celebrate diversity in their writing (Darraj’s forthcoming children’s book series, Farrah Rocks, will feature a Palestinian-American protagonist), there are a growing number of novels that seek to introduce young people to a wide range of cultures and experiences.

In our ‘Recommended Reads for May’, we’ll explore some of the most diverse books for children and young adults.

Celebrating Diverse Books: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is unusual in more ways than one. First, it’s a graphic novel – not traditionally the domain of women – and second, it’s the autobiography of Marjane Satrapi and, specifically, the time she spent as a young girl in 1980s Iran.

Charting Satrapi’s childhood between the ages of six and fourteen, Persepolis is a searing depiction of day-to-day life in Tehran: from the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, to the horrors of the war with Iraq, to more trivial teenage concerns (such as partying and fashion). Satrapi tempers the brutal reality of fundamentalism with humour, verve and wisdom, with the wonderful black-and-white line drawings adding another dimension to the storytelling.

A beautiful and moving work.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

First published in 1990, Mary Hoffman’s picture book Amazing Grace featured one of the first black heroines in children’s literature. This diverse book is timeless, with many messages that are still relevant to young readers today.

Amazing Grace focuses on the eponymous heroine, a creative, lively girl who loves to act out stories. But when her school decides to put on a production of Peter Pan, Grace is surprised to hear her classmates explain why she can’t possibly take on the role of Peter: Peter was a boy, after all, and not black. Grace isn’t sure what to think.

When she returns home, her Ma and Nana tell her she can do anything she puts her mind to. Shortly after that, her Nana take her to the ballet to see an African-American ballerina dance the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Emboldened by her experience at the theatre and the supportive words of her family, Grace dances around the room, whispering to herself ‘I can be anything I want.’ As a result, Grace auditions for Peter and is awarded the role by her peers. The show is mounted with great success and Grace’s performance is dubbed ‘amazing’.

This forward-thinking tale is still one of the most diverse books we’ve encountered. It subverts many stereotypes to do with race, gender, family, and other cultural norms, advocating the importance of ambition without limits and the power of the imagination.

Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari

Winner of the prestigious Waterstones Children’s Book Award, Sita Brahmachari’s debut novel is a rare find: a complex, heart-warming tale that celebrates diversity in all different ways.

Twelve-year-old, half-Indian Mira sometimes feels a bit lost in her chaotic, vibrant, artistic family. But when her beloved grandmother starts her fight against the final stages of cancer, she decides it’s time to be brave. Puberty brings with it many challenges – from first love, which she finds with the mysterious and complicated Jide, to her first experience of health – but also excitement, as Mira sets out to discover the secrets of the world around her.

A beautifully-drawn account of adolescence, which celebrates the differences between people and the universal nature of human experience with both wit and tenderness.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton

Aya has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother. At just eleven years old and fleeing from war-torn Syria, she has already experienced so much – how will she fit in? A local ballet class might be the answer.

A dance teacher soon spots Aya’s enormous potential and thinks she could win a coveted ballet scholarship, but Aya has other, bigger worries. Her family face extradition if they can’t convince the authorities to let them stay in the UK; and they need to find her father, who was separated from them during the difficult journey from Syria. Can Aya and her family hope to find a home in this new, often unfriendly country, and should Aya dare to dream of a brighter future when there is so much at stake?

We couldn’t compile a list of diverse books without including Catherine Bruton’s classic story, which champions the rights of refugees in a mesmerising and often heartbreaking way. A must read for all young bookworms – ballet fans or not!

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