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Archive for March, 2018

As it’s World Book Day (and I’m snowed in with Cate) I thought I’d put together this list I’ve been meaning to do for a while. As you know, I’m currently writing a non-fiction book for adults that tells the stories behind our picture books. One of the stories I planned to tell was about how picture books got more diverse, starting with the stunning The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (planning to try these snow angels once Cate wakes from her nap).

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It’s one of the most beautiful picture books I own, with that heartbreaking moment when Jack checks his pocket for the snowball and finds it empty.

Ezra Jack Keats was white though, I recently realised, looking through the book again and coming to the author picture. And I started googling the authors and illustrators of all the other classic picture books with diverse protagonists I had planned to include – Handa’s Surprise, Amazing Grace, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes – and realised they were all white too. Which is not to detract from these books at all – I’d highly recommend all of them, and am glad artists don’t just automatically reach for the pale pink when they’re creating a new character. But diversity in picture books surely has to mean diversity of writers and illustrators too. It’s about creating from a different place, out of a different set of experiences. Who gets to tell society’s stories is important, because they get to shape our children’s way of seeing the world. I don’t want to write a whole book in which the only BAME author I mention is Taro Gomi who wrote Everybody Poos. (Though it is a total classic).

Anyway, lots of people on Facebook very generously sent suggestions and so far I’d urge you to get hold of these five books:

1) FULL OF LOVE, Trish Cooke illustrated by Paul Howard

About a big family Sunday lunch at Grannie’s house this has become an instant all time favourite at our house, featuring tropical fishes and ‘buttery peas, / chicken and yams, / macaroni cheese, /potatoes and ham’. Also lots of hugs. Gruff thinks it’s ‘really cute.’

2) MALALA’S MAGIC PENCIL, Malala Yousafzai illustrated by Kerascoet

Malala’s own story, skilfully turned into a picture book via her childhood dream of a magic pencil. This pays children the respect of telling them the truth – there are pictures of children scavenging on rubbish piles, and dangerous men lurking with guns on her way to school. But it’s defiant and hopeful. ‘One book and one pen can change the world.’

3) THE YOUNG INFERNO, John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura.

Or everything by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura really – they were the most recommended writer and illustrator. I realised I already had a Kitamura book on my shelves, the superb Angry Arthur, but I hadn’t read Agard’s children’s poetry and it is a marvel. This book features a dream team then, AND IT RETELLS DANTE’S INFERNO IN FULL TERZA RIMA! It stars a teenager in a hoodie with no mobile charge, and the circles of hell include one for bling and one, the City of Dis, where everyone disses everyone else. Too sophisticated for toddlers perhaps, but sophisticated enough for pretty much everyone else to relish.

4) MURAFO’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS, John Steptoe

For slightly older kids again, 4+, but a fascinating African tale I hadn’t heard before – a kind of fairytale narrative in which two sisters are morally tested. And the pictures are absolutely sensational, with a luminous hyperreal quality.

5) GRANDFATHER’S JOURNEY, Allen Say

Allen Say tells the story of his grandfather’s journey from Japan to the USA in a very simple, profound book. The pictures of America have the quality of fine art – you are stunned, like his grandfather, by the pink sculptures of the desert, the oceanic west fields; the rivers ‘clear as the sky’; the bewildering, churning factories. The last page is one of those that you’ll find hard to read out loud without your voice cracking.

Also recommended to me (which I haven’t bought yet but collate for your reference):

Any books by Tamarind or Firetree

The illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon

Clever Carmel by Henrietta Nwagwu-Rochford

I am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith

Our Incredible Cow by Ruchi Shah

My Mother’s Sari by Sandhya Rao

The Streets are Free by Kurusa

Hush, a Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho

Japanese Children’s Favourite Stories by Florence Sakade

 

Hope that’s useful. Cate is stirring now so will get back to our snowy day.

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