To celebrate Black History Month we have compiled a list of ten books that focus specifically on Black British History.


From Baroness Floella Benjamin’s beautiful memoir, recently made into a picture book with gorgeous illustrations by Diane Ewen, to non-fiction books The Story of Windrush (K.N. Chimbiri) and Black and British (David Olusoga), and with exciting and thrilling historical novels by Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, E.L. Norry and Alex Wheatle, these are ten books that will inspire and entertain and that provide an insight to a part of our history which deserves to be brought to the forefront.

 


Coming to England by Floella Benjamin & Diane Ewen, Pan Macmillan (3+)

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A picture book edition of Coming to England, the inspiring true story of Baroness Floella Benjamin: from Trinidad, to London as part of the Windrush generation, to the House of Lords. Follow ten-year-old Floella as she and her family set sail from the Caribbean to a new life in London. Alone on a huge ship for two weeks, then tumbled into a cold and unfriendly London, coming to England wasn't at all what Floella had expected

What will her new school be like? Will she meet the Queen? Filled with optimism and joy, yet deeply personal and relevant, young children will resonate with Floella's experiences of moving home and making friends.

Alongside vibrant illustrations by Diane Ewen, this powerful story shows little people how courage and determination can always overcome adversity.

 

The Story of the Windrush by K.N. Chimbiri, Scholastic (8+)

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A book to celebrate the inspiring legacy of the Windrush pioneers. In June 1948, hundreds of Caribbean men, women and children arrived in London on a ship called the HMT Empire Windrush.

Although there were already Black people living in Britain at the time, this event marks the beginning of modern Black Britain. Combining historical fact with voices from the Windrush Generation, this book sensitively tells the inspiring story of the Windrush Generation pioneers for younger readers.

 

 

 

Freedom by Catherine Johnson, Scholastic (9+)

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An action-packed and pacey story about a boy’s experience of slavery in Britain.

Nathaniel doesn’t want to move to England with his master’s family, leaving behind his mother and sister on the Jamaican plantation. But then he remembers what his mother told him: once a slave sets foot on English soil, they’re free. Perhaps he can earn his fortune and buy his family’s freedom, too.

 

 

 

 

Diver’s Daughter: A Tudor Story by Patrice Laurance, Scholastic (9+)

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A gripping heart-in-your-mouth adventure told by Eve, a Tudor girl who sets out on a dangerous journey to change her life for the better. Voices: Diver's Daughter - A Tudor Story brings Eve and her mother, who was stolen from her family in Mozambique as a child, from the Southwark slums of Elizabethan London to England's southern coast. When they hear from a Mary Rose survivor that one of the African free-divers who was sent to salvage its treasures is alive and well and living in Southampton, mother and daughter agree to try to find him and attempt to dive the wreck of another ship, rumoured to be rich with treasures.

But will the pair survive when the man arrives to claim his 'share'? Will Eve overcome her fear of the water to help rescue her mother? In this thrilling adventure based on real events, Patrice Lawrence shows us a fascinating and rarely seen world that's sure to hook young readers. 

 

Queen of Freedom: Defending Jamaica by Catherine Johnson, Pushkin (9+)

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1720. Blue Mountains, windward Jamaica. In the sweltering heat Captain Shettlewood leads a troop of British soldiers through the thick trees towards the river.

They are hunting slaves who have escaped from the brutal plantations. Their mission: to find them, and kill them. But up ahead, hidden among the rocks above the water, a group of men with cutlasses and muskets wait patiently for the instructions of their leader.

Queen Nanny is a 'wise woman' with a reputation for ancient obeah magic, and a guerilla fighter with a genius for organisation. So the battle for Jamaica begins, the First Maroon War, in which the maroons - escaped slaves - will make a final, do-or-die stand against the slavers and soldiers of Empire.

 

Son of the Circus - A Victorian Story by E.L. Norry, Scholastic (9+)

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Voices: Son of the Circus - A Victorian Story explores the life of a young mixed-race boy, Ted, living with his mother and poorly older brother in Victorian Bradfield. When a stranger, a man the boys don't remember ever seeing before, appears in their kitchen, Ted is hit with a shocking revelation. This man is his father - the first black circus owner in Victorian Britain, Pablo Fanque.

Before Ted can recover from his shock, he is sent away with Pablo to learn the tricks of the circus trade. Pablo is determined for Ted to follow in his footsteps. But can Ted adapt to this terrifying new life amongst strangers? And will he ever see his beloved mother and brother again?

 

 

Coming to England by Floella Benjamin, Pan Macmillan (9+)

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Baroness Floella Benjamin's classic childhood memoir, Coming to England, includes a foreword by the author and some additional historical information. It is beautifully illustrated by Michael Frith. Floella Benjamin was just a young girl when she, her sister and two brothers arrived in England in 1960 to join their parents, whom they had not seen for fifteen months.

They had left the island paradise of Trinidad to make a new home in London - part of a whole generation of West Indians who were encouraged to move to Britain and help rebuild the country after the Second World War. Reunited with her mother, Floella was too overwhelmed at first to care about the cold weather and the noise and dirt from the traffic. But, as her new life began, she was shocked and distressed by the rejection she experienced.

She soon realized that the only way to survive was to work twice as hard and be twice as good as anyone else. This inspirational story is a powerful reminder that courage and determination can overcome adversity.

 

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle, Andersen Press (12+)

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Nobody free till everybody free. Moa is fourteen. The only life he has ever known is toiling on the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless hot days, fearing the vicious whips of the overseers.

Then one night he learns of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky. Moa is to be a cane warrior, and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in the nearby plantations. But before they can escape, Moa and his friend Keverton must face their first great task: to kill their overseer, Misser Donaldson.

Time is ticking, and the day of the uprising approaches . . .

Irresistible, gripping and unforgettable, Cane Warriors follows the true story of Tacky's War in Jamaica, 1760.

 

Sawbones by Catherine Johnson, Walker Books (12+)

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Sixteen-year-old Ezra McAdam has much to be thankful for: trained up as an apprentice by a well-regarded London surgeon, Ezra’s knowledge of human anatomy and skill at the dissection table will secure him a trade for life. However, his world is turned on its head when a failed break-in at his master’s house sets off a strange and disturbing series of events that involves grave robbing, body switching … and murder. Sparky, persuasive young Loveday Finch, daughter of the late Mr Charles Finch, magician, employs Ezra to investigate her father’s death - and there are marked similarities between his corpse and the others. The mystery takes Ezra and Loveday from the Operating Theatre at St Bart’s to the desolate wasteland of Coldbath Fields; from the streets of Clerkenwell to the dark, damp vaults of Newgate Prison; and finally to the shadowy and forbidding Ottoman Embassy, which seems to be the key to it all…

 

Black and British: a short, essential history by David Olusoga, Pan Macmillan (12+)

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A short, essential introduction to Black British history for readers of 12+ by award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga. 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. This new children's version of the bestseller Black and British: A Forgotten History is Illustrated with maps, photos and portraits.
 

 

 

Further reading:

For further book recommendations of books by Black authors and illustrators and about Black history, check out our Black Stories Matter list.