Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books

Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books

Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books is delighted to announce Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK.

A distinguished independent panel of experts has come up with a list of 50 books for all children, from birth to teens, living in the UK today. Books published since 1950 to the present day were considered. 

Kate Edwards, CEO Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books said:

“Children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, building understanding, empathy and tolerance. Despite this there is still a lack of representation of children from different cultural backgrounds – especially as main characters.  By drawing attention to some best loved and well crafted children’s books, our Diverse Voices season will curate an exciting and diverse list of books that will help to inform the choices of librarians, teachers, booksellers and readers when they pick books to recommend, stock, read and enjoy. Britain’s rich and diverse cultural heritage is something to be celebrated and championed.”

Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books includes: much-loved picture books to share, poetry, must-read novels, fascinating biographies, future classics and challenging books that are likely to provoke discussion.

The list has inspired a number of project and partnership work over the summer in conjunction with The Reader Organisation, Discover London, New Writing North and Gem Arts – outcomes of which will be presented in Seven Stories Book Den exhibition space. Seven Stories will also be hosting a celebratory weekend on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 October with storytelling, music and activities inspired by Diverse Voices.  

The Guardian children's booksite is celebrating and discussing Diverse Voices and all kinds of diversity in children's books all this week with features, discussions, author interviews and galleries. See what they are up to and join in the discussion here: www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site

Seven Stories have also specially created learning resources for use in schools, which will be available from Thursday 16 October to encourage the use of books that reflect the diverse world we live in. See www.sevenstories.org.uk/learning for details.

Debbie Beeks, Learning & Participation Manager, Seven Stories: ‘These books offer a rich world to inhabit, enjoy and explore. The responses from children, young people and families demonstrate the power these art forms have to make a group a community, a creative response a moment of realisation, a story a part of a personal journey. I hope that children, carers and educators are inspired to get hold of the books, try some of the ideas in the resources and experience for themselves, the art in this collection of stunning books.’

Seven Stories invited a panel of experts to help draw up the Diverse Voices Book list.  Publishers across the industry were also invited to submit books for consideration.

The panel of experts includes: 

  • Julia Eccleshare, Guardian Children's Books Editor and Early Years Diverse Voices Champion
  • Sarah Smith, Libraries Development Manager, Brent Libraries and Young Readers Diverse Voices Champion
  • Katherine Woodfine, Arts Project Manager, Booktrust and Older Readers Diverse Voices Champion
  • Jake Hope, Freelance Children's Book Consultant, Chair, Youth Libraries Group North-West and Teenage Readers Diverse Voices Champion
  • Debbie Beeks, Learning and Participation Manager at Seven Stories, Reading for Pleasure Champion for Diverse Voices

The Diverse Voices Book List and season is supported by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and has evolved out of the Diverse Voices Book Award, which was founded in memory of Frances Lincoln (1945- 2001) to encourage and promote diversity in children’s literature.

Frances Lincoln Children's Books is part of the Quarto Publishing Group UK. For more information go to: www.franceslincoln.com

Press enquiries to:

Nicky Potter   E: nicpot@dircon.co.uk    T: 020 8 889 9735    M: 0771 5587948


Kathryn Row, Programming and Marketing Manager

Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books 

E: kathryn.row@sevenstories.org.uk     T: 0845 271 0777 ext 209


Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books

Early Years (0+)

 “The images and stories that children hear from the very beginning of their lives are instrumental in expanding their view of the world and in shaping their later attitudes. Born without any sense of the artificial divisions between people or hierarchies in their status, which may later be imposed, pre-schoolers are open-minded: they see animals in pictures and have no difficulty in knowing that they represent humans. They jump effortlessly over ‘barriers’ and differences. For that reason, making sure that everyone is represented in pictures and words is vital. Happily, there are some excellent examples of books that do this. But, the campaign to make books for the very young has a long history - forty years and more from the earliest days of The Other Award  - and the growth in the output of these titles has remained stubbornly slow. This selection shows what can be done and why it matters. Let’s hope it encourages writers, illustrators and publishers to add to it.”

Julia Eccleshare, Guardian Children’s Book Editor and Early Years Champion.

Amazing Grace Mary Hoffman  Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

The classic picture book about the little girl who loves stories and shows us that we can be anything we want to be.

Fruits: A Caribbean Counting Poem, Valerie Bloom Illustrated by David Axtell. Macmillan Children’s Books                                                                          

A rhythmic counting poem that describes all manner of delicious Caribbean fruits as a little girl tries to eat as many of these as she can in a single day.

The Goggle-Eyed Goats, Stephen Davies Illustrated by Christopher Corr. Andersen Press                            

A vibrant and colourfully illustrated tale about Old Al Haji Amadu’s five extremely naughty and very hungry goats who gobble and gulp through whatever they find.

Handa's Surprise, Eileen Browne. Walker Books.                                                                               

A mouth-watering story about Ayeko who puts seven fruits into her basket, but one by one these disappear as all manner of creatures snack upon them.

Hue Boy, Rita Phillips Mitchell  Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books  

As much as Hue Boy longs to be bigger, he discovers size isn’t everything in this uplifting village-based story about a small boy with a very big personality.

Leon and Bob, Simon James. Walker Books.       

A quiet reflective book about the unusual friendship shared by Leon and Bob and the sense of fun and fulfilment others can bring into our lives.                

Not So Fast Songololo, Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

An African town is brought to life through sight and sound in this touching story of young and old where Grandmother Gogo and grandson Songololo set out on a stroll together.

Over the Hills and Far Away, Elizabeth Hammill Illustrated by 77 artists. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books            

A stunning collection of 150 rhymes from countries all over the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the Caribbean compiled by Seven Stories co-founder Elizabeth Hammill.  The collection contains best-loved nursery rhymes, but also new discoveries, and vibrant rhymes from Native American, First Nation, Inuit and Maori cultures.              

Ramadan Moon, Na’ima B. Robert Illustrated by Shirin Adl. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books     

The festival of Ramadan and its celebration across the world is explored in this thoughtful book which looks at the role faith plays in many children’s lives.

Rastamouse and the Crucial Plan, Michael De Souza Illustrated by Genevieve Webster. Little Roots.

A cheeky, cheese-filled tale about super bad thief Bandalulu who has stolen all the cheese from Mouseland.

So Much, Trish Cooke Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury Walker Books        

A fun, feel good and familiar story about the different generations of a family brought together by their love for a new baby.

Where’s Lenny? Ken Wilson-Max Frances Lincoln Children’s Books        

An ideal first picture book by an award winning author/illustrator in which Lenny and his dad have a game of hide and seek in the house, enjoying fun and games together.


Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books

Young Readers (5+)

 “This is a delightful selection of books with stories that are timeless and can be enjoyed time and time again. There is much to discover and pleasure to be gained through re-reading many of these titles missed on first readings.  Whilst targeted at emergent readers, this selection works well with both less confident and more proficient readers. The text ranges from ‘wordless’ stories, to advanced picture books, graphic novels and short chapter books.  The collection ensures there is something for everyone and richly promotes and celebrates the diversity of Britain.”

Sarah Smith, Libraries Development Manager, Brent Libraries and Young Readers Champion.

Azzi In Between, Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln Children's Books

A powerful graphic novel about Azzi and her family who seek refuge, filled with drama and tension it shows just how dangerous some people’s home lives can be and the difficult decisions needed to reach a place of safety.

Betsey Biggalow is here, Malorie Blackman Illustrated by Jamie Smith. Random House Children's Books

Somewhere between Pippi Longstocking and Tracy Beaker, Betsey Biggalow, who stars in these short, pacey stories, is an imaginative and enquiring girl who is sometimes mischievous but always endearing.

The Colour of Home, Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Karin Littlewood. Frances Lincoln Children's Books.

Hassan feels out of place in a cold, grey country so different from his colourful Somalian home, which he was forced to leave because of war. But gradually things change... and he sees the new colours of home.

Fly, Eagle, Fly! Christopher Gregorowski Illustrated by Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children's Books

A story of fulfilment and freedom shown through the parable of the baby eagle who is reared with chickens. This simply told yet dramatic story from Africa will delight children everywhere and encourage them to "lift off and soar," as Archbishop Tutu puts it in his foreword. 

A Hen in the Wardrobe, Wendy Meddour. Frances Lincoln Children's Books

This is a funny, heart-warming family story set in Britain and Algeria, with fascinating glimpses of traditional Berber culture and lots of colourful characters.

Kasia's Surprise, Stella Gurney Illustrated by Petr Horacek. Walker Books.

A moving and hope-filled book about Kasia and her mum who have moved to the UK from Poland, it looks at the importance of the people we are close to and the gradual acceptance of change.

Mirror, Jeannie Baker. Walker Books

Although thousands of miles apart, there are many similarities between the homes and daily routines for the two boys in this book, its minutely detailed illustrations inspire readers to see that, in spite of surface difference, there is often more similarity in our lives than might, at first, be recognised.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe. Puffin Children's Books

This special book has a fairy-tale like charm as a King takes on the search for a wife.  Mufaro has two daughters, one rude and mean and the other generous and thoughtful, which will win the hand of the King?

Number 1 Car Spotter, Atinuke. Walker Books.

A witty story about the hugely appealing Number 1 who sets about searching for and solving problems and carrying out chores for his family.

Under the Moon and Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, ed John Agard and Grace Nichols. Walker Books.

A lyrical and lively collection of poetry that captures the sights, sounds, tastes and tales of the Caribbean and its people.

Walter Tull's Scrap Book, Michaela Morgan. Frances Lincoln Children's Books

The inspirational true story of Walter Tull’s life is vividly reimagined here in scrapbook form, 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.


Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books

Older Readers (8+)

“As children grow older and become more confident readers, they will want to choose what they read for themselves - so it's all the more essential that they are given access to a wide range of books that will grab their attention and demand to be read. The books on this list showcase the tremendous variety and richness of the best writing for this age group - here are stories that will take children on journeys to new places, introduce them to different people, and widen their horizons. Yet what's perhaps even more important is that young readers are also given access to those books that reflect their own lives and experiences, and the diversity of their communities - showing that children just like themselves can be heroes and heroines too. The publishing industry still has lots of work to do to improve the diversity of books for children, but the books on this list are great examples of the way forward.”

Katherine Woodfine, Arts Project Manager, Booktrust and Older Readers Champion.

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzman. Puffin Children's Books

Jamal and sister Bibi want to lead Australia to victory in the World Cup, but that entails a journey from their homeland, Afghanistan where their family has upset the authorities, and a lengthy voyage overseas.

The Island, Armin Greder. Allen & Unwin Books for Children & Young Adults 

The poignancy of the pictures in this story about a man washed up on an island beach and outcast by its community explores intolerance and is a powerful and moving conversation starter for discussions around acceptance.

Journey to Jo'Burg, Beverley Naidoo. HarperCollins 

A deeply affecting modern classic about a brother and sister who journey through the South Africa of Apartheid in a race against time to find their mother thereby saving their poorly baby sister, Dineo.

The Life of Stephen Lawrence, Verna Allette Wilkins Illustrated by Lynne Willey. Tamarind.

Full of life and potential, Stephen Lawrence was a boy with huge hopes for the future.  Murdered in 1993, the book looks and prejudice, injustice and a family’s fight to uncover the truth.

Little Leap Forward, Guo You and Clare Farrow Illustrated by Helen Cann. Barefoot Books

This semi-autobiographical tale looks at Little Leap Forward, a boy who grew up in the hutongs of Beijing  during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Oranges in No Man's Land, Elizabeth Laird. Macmillan Children's Books

Ayesha lives in war-torn Beirut, a city divided by conflict.  When Ayesha’s granny falls ill, she must cross the barricades into deadly no-man’s land to try to get the medication that is so badly needed.

A Nest of Vipers, Catherine Johnson. Random House Children's Books

The youngest member of a collective of pick pockets and con-artists in 18 Century London, Cato Hopkins appears at risk of paying penance for his crimes with his life…

Talking Turkeys, Benjamin Zephaniah. Puffin Children's Books.

A thought provoking and wide reaching collection of poetry for children that explodes from the page, begging to be read aloud.

Tall Story, Candy Gourlay. David Fickling Books

Quirky, unusual and filled with affectionate humour, this story looks at the relationship between Andi, who is short, and her long lost, enormous half-brother Bernardo who comes to live in London from the Philippines.

Too Much Trouble, Tom Avery. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

A fast-paced read about brothers Em and Prince who struggle to make a life and home for themselves on the streets of London.  Winner of the Diverse Voices award 2010.

Trash, Andy Mulligan. David Fickling Books

Raphael is a dumpsite boy whose days are spent sifting through rubbish and whose nights are spent sleeping beside it.  This deeply affecting story tells how one fateful moment – the discovery of a small leather bag – can radically change one’s fortunes…

The Trouble with Donovan Croft, Bernard Ashley. Oxford University Press Children's Books

Keith’s new foster brother, Donovan, won’t speak to anybody, will Keith be able to uncover the reasons why and help Donovan to open up?

The Unforgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce. Walker Books

This acutely perceptive, gem of a book recounts how Julie tries to help two Mongolian refugees who are struggling to fit in with their new classmates in Liverpool and movingly describes why their friendship ended unexpectedly…

The Wheel of Surya, Jamila Gavin. Egmont

The violence and danger of India during the Independence movement and its partition from Pakistan acts a catalyst for Jaspal and Marvinder to flee from their village in an effort to reunite with their father who is a student in England.


Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books

Teenage Readers (13+)

“Young people on the cusp of adulthood are able to grapple and contend with ethical dilemmas and morality, contemporary literature aimed at this age has richly explored this leading to many dynamic and innovative works.  Diverse titles focus around subjects like migration, immigration and nationality and show the ways these can become politicized and the impact of that happening.  Philip Ridley's playscript, 'Moonfleece' is a striking example.  It offers a razor-sharp insight into the way narratives can be manipulated and the prejudice and inhumanity that can result from this.  Being a playscript it is a work that young people themselves are able to engage with fully, witnessing firsthand the thoughts, motivations and feelings of the characters' affected and leaving its readers and audience with heightened understanding.”

Jake Hope, Freelance Children’s Book Consultant and Teenage Readers Champion.

Apache, Tanya Landman. Walker Books

Following the vicious murder of her brother, orphan Siki vows to become an Apache warrior to take revenge upon her brother, Tazhi’s, killers.

The Arrival, Shaun Tan. Hodder Children's Books

This wordless graphic novel explores the many reasons that lead people to leave their old lives and homes behind and set out upon the journey entailed in starting afresh.

Artichoke Hearts, Sita Brahmachari. Macmillan Children's Books

Aged twelve, Mira’s life changes when her Nana Josie becomes ill and Mira begins to learn about the secrets of her family and loved ones in this emotionally honest novel.

Blood Donors, Steve Tasane. Walker Books

A skin-crawling novel about Marshall O’Connor who lives in the ‘Finger’ a block of flats with a deep, dark and deadly secret.  This distinctive, fresh and decidedly creepy novel explores stigma and prejudice.

The Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis. Oxford University Press Children's Books

Kept house-bound by the Taliban’s law that women and girls should not leave the house on their own, Parvana, her mother and sisters are in danger of starvation when their father is arrested.

Half-Caste & Other Poems, John Agard. Hodder Children's Books

The poems in this highly original collection, penned by John Agard uncover a wealth of human experience and on differences in race.

Moonfleece, Philip Ridley. Methuen

A playscript that explores the tensions between two groups of teenagers who come to learn the way party politics influence the everyday lives of individuals and the devastating impact this can have.

Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman. Random House Children's Books

Sephy and Callum live in a world of split communities and civil unrest, can their feelings for one another grow and blossom against this backdrop and what will occur if those feelings are discovered?

Palestine, Joe Sacco. Jonathan Cape

An extraordinary piece of current affairs reportage told in graphic novel form and recounting the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Persepolis 1 & 2, Marjane Satrapi. Vintage

This eye-opening graphic novel about author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Tehran uncovers the way a country's politics, religion, history and traditions, influence a sense of identity.

Refugee Boy, Benjamin Zephaniah. Bloomsbury Children's Books

Thrilled to have left his home country of Ethiopia for the first time, Alem is excited to be spending a holiday with his father in London.  Happiness turns to despair when he discovers his father has left him alone in an unfamiliar country…

(Un)arranged Marriage, Bali Rai. Random House Children's Books 

This highly personal story was partly influenced by Bali Rai’s own experiences, it looks at the impact cultural traditions can have on young people growing up in modern times and the book will resonate will all who have experienced the pressure of expectation at the hands of their family.

The Weight of Water, Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury Children's Books

Poetic and reflective, the story tells how Kasienka comes to England from Gdansk in Poland with her mother, a suitcase and a laundry bag full of clothes, desperate to search for her father. 




Notes for Editors: 

Frances Lincoln Limited was founded by Frances Lincoln in 1977. In 1983 the company started to publish illustrated books for children. Since then it has won many awards and prizes. Best-selling titles include Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman with illustrations by Caroline Binch and We are Britain by Benjamin Zephaniah with photographs by Prodeepta Das. 

Frances Lincoln died, aged 55, in February 2001. She was described by Julia Eccleshare in the TES as “the publisher best known for pioneering multicultural books for children.”  

Frances Lincoln Children's Books is part of the Quarto Publishing Group UK. For more information go to www.franceslincoln.com

Seven Stories - National Centre for Children's Books

Seven Stories is the only place in Britain dedicated to the art of children’s books and the joy of reading, and one of just a few such places in the world. Their work is enjoyed by over 150,000 people every year.  Everything they do aims to inspire children and grownups to be curious, imaginative and creative. They strive to ensure that people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities can take part to enjoy a lifetime of reading for pleasure.

Their home is a carefully converted Victorian warehouse in Newcastle upon Tyne in Northeast England.   The museum opened in 2005. Seven floors house galleries for exhibitions, performances and creative space, a specialist children’s bookshop and a café.

Seven Stories is widely recognised for its abilities and achievements. They have established an internationally important collection of artwork, manuscripts and archives of Britain’s most acclaimed writers and illustrators for children from 1930s to the present day. They bring this unique treasure trove to life through playful and immersive exhibitions, entertaining and informative public events, imaginative and inclusive learning and outreach programmes and research opportunities.

Seven Stories was awarded National status by Arts Council England in 2012 in recognition of the significance of their collection and its high standard of care, and the excellent ways that they engage with visitors and users. 

Diverse Voices Book Award

The award was jointly founded by Frances Lincoln Ltd and Seven Stories - National Centre for Children’s Books in memory of Frances Lincoln (1945-2001). The prize was for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.  There were four awards and Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln has commissioned or published nine books by the writers who entered the award: three titles in the Takeshita Demons series by Cristy Burne, winner of the inaugural award; Too Much

Trouble by Tom Avery, the 2010 winner and In Too Deep published in 2013; the 2011 winner Om Shanti Babe by Helen Limon, which was published in 2012; and A Hen in the Wardrobe and The Black Cat Detectives, the first two titles in the Cinnamon Grove series by Wendy Meddour, who entered the 2009 award. Wendy Meddour’s How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel  is published in October 2014.

The  Diverse Voices Children’s Book List and Season

Seven Stories is bringing together children, young people and families with Diverse Voices Top 50 children’s books, through reading for pleasure work with four exciting organisations, GemArts, Discover London, The Reader Organisation and New Writing North. This collection of books is the source material for explorations, debate and creativity that will be celebrated in an exhibition at Seven Stories 13th October 2014. The aim is to raise the profile of these books, for the books to be read and celebrated, for children to see themselves, step into another’s shoes and find their place and belonging among the characters and settings of many cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Each group will celebrate difference and look for commonality and explore what that means to them personally through play, art making, writing, photography and poetry. Book packs and supporting resources will be available to buy from Seven Stories to support you to bring Diverse Voices Top 50 children’s Books to your settings and enrich your reading journeys.