Tweets at the start of Black History Month October call for people to write about their inspirational black figure. I always struggle with this question as firstly it's hard to pinpoint just one person but also what constitutes inspirational? As a youngster I probably would have picked Daley Thompson or John Barnes as sport was my thing, then at uni, whilst reading English, I guess I would have chosen Maya Angelou or Alice Walker. Contemplating who to write about today I really considered Michelle Obama because I love what's she doing for girls' education - she's really worked hard to raise the expectations of young girls and highlighted the importance of grassroots work.
But now in my 40s the famous names seem to mean a bit less to me now and I tend to search for black British female figures; you see that's the thing with inspirational people - they are just there, in your life everyday without you realising it. It's as though you take them for granted. And that's when I decided on Malorie Blackman. Writer and Children's Laureate 2013-2015. When I first started teaching there was always a set of old books lurking in the store cupboard - amongst them was "Pig-heart boy" by Malorie Blackman: never on the curriculum list or the staff choice so I just ignored it. But a few years later I discovered The Noughts and Crosses stories : a set of books about a dystopian world where people are not black or white but the darker-skinned Noughts are more affluent and successful than the lighter Crosses. I was hooked. Not just on this set of five novels as I was now ploughing my way through her back catalogue.
My discovery led to finding a collection of tween novels with boy and girl characters who are strong, clever, silly, naughty, forced to grow up quickly or learn from their mistakes. Then a set of stories about adventurous little girls called Betsey Bigelow and Girl Wonder, which are full of wonderful tales for the younger reader. Once I got to the young adult novel "Noble Conflict~ I was absolutely hooked.
What Malorie Blackman offers is this: novels and stories that are full of intrigue, conflict, threat, complex plots and compelling characters. But the added bonus for me is that her characters just happen to be brown - they are not necessarily suffering from racism or stuck in slavery times (don't get me wrong, these themes are also imperative in our reading - check out my beigebooks page to see) - these are characters that just are who they are. The protagonists have brown faces and black mums and Caribbean dads - just like me and they experience all the days and lives that the white characters I grew up reading experience. Just as in films or on TV youngsters often need to identify with the fictional characters they come across, as a child these characters were often black children just arriving in England from the Caribbean so as an adult I am finally finding characters that share my own Black British identity.
During her time as children's laureate she actively campaigned for reading and creative writing for pleasure and bringing YA literature to the fore - both of which I actively supported whilst working as Head of English in a London comp. Here was a high profile author creating powerful and engaging stories with characters of colour that deserve to be read by everyone - we are in a society with all shades of people in our streets and our screens so they need to be there in our books.
I think I love her books because I wish had they had been around when I was a kid. As a mother and teacher I find that her stories captivate and create discussion and enjoyment. The bonus is now my own three girls get to read a range of her stories and will continue to do so as they get older - if they can prise them out of their mother's hands that is.
So my Black History Month inspirational person, Malorie Blackman, has inspired me to write. That dream has always been there - since school - but confidence, not really thinking this was something that black girls did, got in the way - until now. Her website is awash with titles of so many different books for all ages that I finally thought it's time to stop 'what if' -ing and just do. Oh and having finally got round to reading 'Pigheart boy' I'm kicking myself for not teaching it earlier and hopefully await TV and film adaptations of a bunch of her stories. Someone is seriously missing a trick out there.