beige books

Welcome. As mentioned in my post - Brown Girl in the Ring - I am compiling an ongoing list of books which feature ethnic protagonists. These books actually live in my home and are read by the 3G and me! I'll give a little bit of blurb / info and possibly a review or two if I can persuade the girls to give me a soundbite!

You could also pop over to Letterbox Library and MixedRaceFamilies for some ideas too!

Enjoy and don't forget to let me know if you have some titles to share! 

PIG-HEART BOY - Malorie Blackman
This exciting and thought-provoking novel has been reviewed by my daughter - MiddleS (aged8).
Cameron has to have a pig’s heart transported into his body it has never been done before and he will be the first ever person to have an animals heart into his body.
I liked the bit when Cameron is in hospital and he is sleeping whilst the pig’s heart is being put into his body and his friend does something that will break their friendship.
I also love the character Marlon because he makes the story so interesting and suspicious.
Will Cameron become the world’s first ever person with a pig heart?

BOYS DON'T CRY - Malorie Blackman
The one thing I love about Malorie Blackman's novels are that they great straight to the good stuff. There's no mucking about with long drawn out intros - from page 1 the scene is set and the reader is hooked. This book is of no exception. Told in dual narrative, brothers Dante and Adam are thrown into disarray by a series of unexpected events in their lives which force them to face issues and decisions with maturity and honesty.  This book deals with teenage parenthood and homosexuality in a way that doesn't patronize or aim to gratuitously shock the reader but instead explore the realities of these very serious and common situations. As a parent I really admired the 'dad' character because I would hope that I would respond to the predicaments with as much patience. At times I felt irritated with the two boys or frustrated but I think that's ok - there's no need to have blind loyalty for protagonists, rather it enables you to consider your own responses and develop empathy with these boys.  An engaging book from the start for the older tween / teen reader. 

THIEF - Malorie Blackman                                                                 Lydia is one of the few characters I have met in a book that I have wanted to just hug and make everything okay. School life spirals out of control as she suddenly discovers herself  in the middle of a school scandal which negatively impacts on her family in more ways than she can imagine. Believing herself to be better off running away from her problem Lydia and the story materialize in a different future where the effects of her school life have had major consequences. Teen dystopian novels seem to be the genre of choice now and this is a great novel to introduce the tween reader without being too dark.  A non-stop adventure from beginning to end.

What a gorgeous book (and from my favourite male poet too!) The cure story of Shona and her dad having a day out in London and getting stuck on the tube. Rather than do that London thing where we all try to ignore the people around us, the commuters have a little fun courtesy of a yellow man and some bananas. This is a lovely story separated into short chapters, characters of all shapes and sizes, dialogue and dyslexia friendly typeface and spacing. Integrated with drawings of the different characters my younger two (6&8) enjoyed this book because they couldn't predict what was going to happen and were surprised the twists and turns of the story. Ordered from Amazon when I read a review of this.

This novel had me gripped from beginning to end. I have a penchant for browsing the YA sections in bookstores and I'm glad I found this because I discovered the strongest, inspirational female character I have read in a long time.  Set in America at the end (?) of slavery, slave girl Charlotte finds herself living a new life she could not have predicted and certainly would not have wished for. Forced to make life-saving decisions at every turn Charlotte - now Charley - faces the horrors and evil left in the wake of a civil war but is strengthened by the loyalty and love of other freed slaves and Native American Indians striving to survive day to day. As mentioned this is a story for older readers and as the story develops the language and situations are often gruesome to create realism. As Charley wises up to her predicaments the reader feels her ageing so expects the tone of the novel to change. In light of recent tales about characters of colour being erased from book covers I was especially heartened to see the protagonist honestly represented on the front but felt that the blurb did this story a dis-service. Although she does not start off as a child in this novel I would consider it a bildungsroman novel as she is removed from the relative safety of a plantation to the unknown plans of a fractured North America (not yet United). Hidden amongst the depiction of Charley's army life is a question that I was totally unprepared for. This is one of those books that I want everyone I know to read so we can talk about it and will certainly be one to keep for my girls when they're a bit older. Browsing in an independent bookstore in Rye, East Sussex I was captured by the title but on reading the blurb realised it had nothing to do with Bob Marley but was also intrigued by the cover.

The 'ragamuffin' friend from The Friends now gets the chance to tell her own story and time has moved on again. No longer in New York Edith and her siblings are moving through foster homes.  Fiercely protective of her family she desperately struggles to keep them together but finds legal systems and the decisions of her sisters leave her alienated. There are well meaning characters along the way who seem to want to help Edith but as in Rosa Guy's previous novels, the protagonist has to work out who her allies her by herself.  This is a bleaker story than the others and the Caribbean sisters: Phyllisia and Ruby are re-visited briefly with their own turn of events. It's again for the slightly older reader - not so much in the language but the subject matter deals with sexual relationship issues. I was a huge fan of Edith in The Friends so was delighted that she had her own book but my heart was breaking as this young woman with such fire in her belly was being crushed by those around her. Still Guy leaves us with a heroine that is flawed but who's experiences bridge that gap between the growing up and adulthood. Bought who knows where in a charity shop many years ago but still available online.

RUBY - Rosa Guy
Facing overt discrimination on a daily basis from a mean, white teacher, branded an 'Uncle Tom' by her peers and receiving little attention from her younger sister or hard-working father, Ruby is approaching the end of high school with trepidation until she befriends Daphne - strong, opinonated, smart, black girl who's views on life and love bring new challenges to Ruby.  The language is stronger in this novel than the last one so is definitely aimed at the older reader and there are references to sexual relationships too (although not explicit). It was interesting to follow the experience of Phyllisia's sister (from the Friends) as she seemed to be the confident one of the two. However in her own story she appears fearful, and apprehensive as she discovers the pressures of growing up and ultimately the strength in herself and her family.  Bought from a charity shop search after reading The Friends but still available online.


Phyllisia's tale of moving from the Caribbean to New York with her family highlights the struggles a young girl encounters when she discovers that not everyone wants to share their knowledge in class or has the same accent or home live. Unsupported by her sister in the school halls Phyllisia has to find her strength against a backdrop of racist bullying, family tragedy and a strange new best friend who wakens her up to what real friendship looks like. This and three other books by Rosa Guy (Edith Jackson, Ruby) have been on my shelf since I was young but a recent re-read proved they still hold intrigue and resonate with the issues of being the new girl and a stranger to new ways. Often Phyllisia can be aggrevating and I was constantly willing her to slow down and make different choices, but this also kept me reading - hoping that she would work out who was on her side. Bought who knows where many years ago but still available online.

BLACKBERRY BLUE and other fairy tales - Jamila Gavin
This collection of magical  tales with intriguing characters has been reviewed by my eldest - BigL (aged9). 

My favourite tale in the book is Blackberry Blue because it has interesting and exciting characters, including: Prince Just, Prince Wolf and The Woodcutters Wife.     All the characters have different personalities and feelings throughout the story; which affects the way they act around other people. I especially like the description about the characters and their surroundings. The way it is described made me feel like I am there or I'm that person. I like most of the characters, but my favourite character is Blackberry Blue because she does anything to marry her true love; Prince Just, the kind-hearted man. Two characters are mean and unpleasant, but I think the most repulsive is the Queen, Prince Wolf's mum, because she tried to poison her own step-son with soup. I think Blackberry Blue deserves to marry Prince Just because she lives by herself in the middle of the woods and she is a kind person to marry.  The whole story is wonderful, but my favourite part is when Blackberry Blue gets a different dress for each ball, the items which make up the dress depend on the season. I like it because it has excellent description, meaning I can really picture the dress.           

Having enjoyed the first Anna Hibiscus book I have been keeping an eye out for more - and there are now a few more. This a little different from the first one we read in that there are shorter, stand-alone stories which make up the whole book rather than one narrative. Personally I like this better for night-time reading for LittleE - we can read a page each without it becoming too onerous.  Anna Hibiscus is exploring and enjoying life with her extended family and she discovers the importance of water, how to forgive when she is blamed for something she didn't do and preparing for a trip to Granny in Canada.  There are many greyscale pictures throughout the book allowing this book to challenge the younger reader but also help the imagination with the depictions of Anna Hibsicus' African home and surroundings. Bought from a local Waterstones. We now look out for lovely Anna Hibiscus whenever we are in a bookstore. 

After my favourite childhood book, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor this book took me back into the world of young Black Americans. It's strange as the life of a child from this background was so far removed from mine, but somehow I loved being transported to a place where people greeted their parents with 'yes mama' and 'yessir' , and hollered whilst running for the yellow school bus, after eating grits for breakfast. I still don't know what they are but this contrasting life to my own was one of the wonderful things about reading. Now those weren't actual quotes from these particular books but you get the idea - I was being taken to a different world.  So Bette Greene introduced my to Beth and her confidence as President of her all-girl band of Pretty Pennies in various competitions against their rivals the Tiger Hunters: made up of all boys including the friend/enemy Philip Hall. I guess this book taught me about friendship, family, feelings for boys and feminism. Beth is one amazing organiser and high achiever in school. I was reading this at a time when there was little in the was of positive images for me growing up as a black child in a white neighbourhood,so meeting this intelligent, interesting and aspirational young girl was out of the norm.  
Beth's adventures regularly involve her fighting against small town social injustices and taking the helm when it comes to bring this small town together in a variety of celebrations. She occasionally has to learn some lessons about herself through disappointments. But this young girl seems to rise up, with the absolute support of her parents, siblings and Grandmother. What's nice about this book is that the issues will resonate with young girls - these are just events in Beth's life. There are no racial tensions or adult themes that she has to find her way around. The first book was a present after a trip to London when I was a child, and I discovered the second one in a charity store as an adult. I remembered the name of 'Philip Hall' and was delighted to find it was a sequel. Now if only someone could write what happened to lovely Beth when she grew up!

A moving, heartfelt epistolary novel following Hyacinth from the safety of her life with her Aunty in Jamaica to a cold, harrowing existence with her downright miserable father. Interspersed with fragmented flashbacks of a childhood memory, Hyacinth cuts a lonely, fragile figure battling her way through school, friendships, and university. There are times when I got frustrated with her naivety and ignorance; but her experiences of rejection, racism, abandonment, and abuse seem to justify her choices and outdated views. Definitely a read for the older audience - YA to adults - and possibly a bit outdated, yet this is a stark reminder of the displacement of a generation (my parents' generation) who were ripped from their home nations to survive in a hostile country. The few that chose to return often discovered the years had rendered them strangers amongst their own people. I read this many moons ago but was riveted to the end. As Hyacinth's generation have now grown roots and raised families in Britain,  their stories of displacement remain relevant. This was a book I read at University whilst writing about the representation of the Black British child in literature. I vaguely remember searching this out in a Black bookstore in Tottenham, London. 

NOBLE CONFLICT - Malorie Blackman
I am completely hooked on Malorie Blackman's books, moreso her YA books because they are simply riveting. This dystopian novel throws the reader into the middle of a conflict between two factions : The Alliance and the Crusaders, both with their own protective organisations. The narrator, Kasper, is a member of the Alliance army and discovers secrets, memories, lies, and a life when he stumbles across Rhea. His connection with this rebel fighter leads him to question everything he had known before. Kasper is a likeable, strong character who I was rooting for throughout his painful discoveries. The reader is kept on their toes and the sharp dialogue between characters, which is simultaneously biting and funny. Do remember this is a young adult novel so not for younger readers. Great for grown ups though!  Failed stroll past a Waterstones - doubled back to search for Blackman's latest novel!

SHADES OF BLACK - Sandra L Pinkney 

There was a time when one of the 3G was feeling a little confused that she didn't look like her mummy or daddy so we went looking for some books to help us out (because obviously our explanations were't satisfactory enough for her!). A lovely basic hardbook with colourful images of brown children of all shades. Each photograph is matched with a simple sentence comparing their features to colours, textures, and objects. The key message in this book is about being proud of who you are. I liked this book because it shows how wonderfully diverse children of colour are.  Recommended to me by my best mate and hunted down on ebay.

BRIGHT EYES, BROWN SKIN - Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G Ford                                                                                                                                                                  Another gentle book with simple sentences focusing on the features of young children. Although brown skin is mentioned it's not the absolute centre; moreso the elements of children's learning about parts of their body. Lovely illustrations of happy smiling children.      Grenada airport purchase


FRUITS - Valerie Blook and David Axtell 

This lovely Caribbean counting poem follows two mischievous sisters as they discover more and more fruits around their home and yard. You will enjoy the Caribbean dialect in these pages whilst the two girls attempt to get rid of the evidence of their fruit treats. That is until their tummies beg to differ!    Not sure but I think I bought this from Letterbox Library at the NASUWT BAME conference

THE FIRE CHILDREN - Eric Maddern and Frane Lessac                                                                                                

Now this is a gorgeous book. A West African folk tale explaining why and how the world is full of people of different colours. When the first spirit people came to Earth their oven of clay and fire became very busy baking the children of the future. A simple story helping children to enjoy their differences.  Definitely bought from Letterbox Library at the NASUWT BAME conference

   SO MUCH - Trish Cooke and  Helen Oxenbury
We really love this book. So Much so that it is definitely off the reading scale of the 3G  but we can't bear to let it go. It was one of the first books I bought as a new mummy with brown characters, but it became a favourite in the house. The story starts with Mum and baby waiting for all their family members, of various sizes, shapes and personalities, to come up and share their love with the baby. Who is loved so very much by his noisy, funny, colourful family. Children will enjoy the repetition of the DING DONG of the doorbell, the catchphrases of each character and the wonderful illustrations bringing them all to life. Honestly it's been with us so long I've forgotten where we got it from.

UNHEARD VOICES - Malorie Blackman

This is a collection of  mainly prose and poetry sharing the experiences of British and American black slaves from a range of accomplished authors: Grace Nichols, John Agard, Langston Hughes and of course Blackman herself. This collection takes the reader through a slaves' live from capture through to our contemporary view of slavery. Blackman has included the most emotional short story I have ever read; 'North' follows the plight and decisions of a mother and her child held captive, faced with instant choices to make that could change their lives forever. In short, I wept. This is a must read to remind us of the sorrows and hardships that were caused by the atrocities of slavery over so many years. I believe this book serves as a conduit for readers to seek out the named extracts and read them in their entirety. Another bold offering from Ms Blackman.  Right now I can't walk past a Waterstones without checking out the shelves for another Blackman offering. Still so many to add to the collection.

SLAVE GIRL The Diary of Clotee, Virginia. USA 1859 - Patricia C McKissack
Slave girl Clotee secretly learns to read whilst the young white son of her owner is being taught his ABCs. If she is discovered her life as she knows it will be put in jeopardy. But her determination to understand the true meaning of the word 'freedom' drives her to challenge the world she lives in and put herself in dangerous situations for the sake of others. Written in short diary entries we meet many sympathetic characters who live and work alongside Clotee. It's based on the true story of Clotee Henley who worked as a conductor on the Underground Railroad; an organisation that helped slaves from the South escape to freedom. A wonderful read combining real history with the personal journey of a little girl growing up. I don't even own this one - I was browsing through the young readers section in my local library and found it. Well done Hanworth Airparcs library

CAIRO HUGHES - Millie Murray  This is a quite a dated book but this doesn't detract from the issues raised.  Cairo, a young black girl adopted by a white family, finds she has so much to discover about herself when she moves to London and makes friends with another black girl. I liked the way this book focused on the day to day things that do make a difference in a child's life when she had questions about her own heritage: food, hair, and dialect.  Immersed in a family with their own problems - parents not getting on and a death in the family- Cairo looks elsewhere for support during tough times.   Recommended by a website during a search for Black History Month activities - bought on Amazon

FROM SOMALIA WITH LOVE - Na'ima B. Robert    
This was a big hit with my Year 8 class last year - boys and girls alike. Narrated by teenager Safia Dirie living with her mother and brothers in London. The arrival of her father from Somali initiates a journey of self-discovery for her as a daughter, a sister, a friend and a Muslim. With a backdrop of Safia's poetry this is a realistic and refreshing novel that will resonate with anyone experiencing a mixture of cultures - anywhere in their lives. The young Muslim girls that I have leant this book to have all given positive feedback and that it was interesting to hear Safia's views on family, growing up in Britain and wearing hijab.  Found this whilst trawling interweb for books with a female Muslim protagonist. Purchased from Amazon in bundles due to teaching it to my Year 8 class last year.        


SUGAR CANE - Patricia Storace
A Caribbean version of the tale Rapunzel illustrated with glorious art and cultural references to traditional island life. It's quite a long read, we took a couple of nights to finish it - but the suspense was perfect for keeping them interested. The witch (Madame Fate) who kidnaps Sugar Cane (Rapunzel) was a pretty scary for LittleE, but the other two were full of questions and guesses about what was going to happen next.  Another Grenada airport purchase

GRANNY TING TING - Patrice Lawrence
Michael travels from London to visit his cousin, Shayla, and her family in Trinidad. A series of light hearted competitions play out between the two as they try and convince each other of the merits of their home islands. Their fun and games are all watched by Granny Ting Ting - who also has a little surprise up her sleeve!  Bought by me for the 3G from Letterbox Library at the NASUWT BME conference.

LULU - Hilary McKay 
A series of books featuring lovely little Lulu and a range of animals - the cat in the bag; the duck in the park; the hamster in the night; the hedgehog in the rain; the dog from the sea. 
Middle S loved these books because she got to know Lulu and enjoyed reading about how she found the different animals and what happened next!  Bought from the Book People by a great aunt.

TOO MANY TICKLES - Thomas Taylor and Penny Dann
This book is brilliant and you can make it as interactive as you like! A quick read about a brother and sister who have a family that just love tickles. I had great fun with LittleE playing out all the different tickles as we read it together.  Discovered in my great big local Tesco - woop woop!

GO WELL - Anna Hibiscus
Set in 'amazing Africa' Anna Hibiscus journeys from her home city to visit relatives in their village. Her travels show her a different Africa from the one she has come to know. Wonderful colours and characters and adventures along the way.  I'm reading this chapter by chapter with LittleE, and we're both enjoying it. This is but one book in a series of Anna Hibiscus books.  Bought in Waterstones whilst looking for the Malorie Blackman early reader series.

How happy was I when my childhood TV fav - Floella Benjamin - published these books. Even moreso when it was almost like she'd been peering through our newly formed family window. Black grandparents from the Caribbean, white Northern grandparents. Uncanny. Another chance for me to have a go at some more accents, and the 3G love the fact that the child in the story is the one who solves the problem. Yeah message here - grown ups are not always right!  I think I found the Grannies at a high street bookstore, but went to Amazon when I discovered that Grandads existed.

HANDA'S HEN - Eileen Browne
Now we have read a few of Handa's stories and they are still a big favourite at Twickers Towers.  This tale see Handa and her friend Akeyo looking for Grandma's black hen and learn a little bit about counting along the way.  Found another one of Handa's adventures in our local Hounslow library years ago and ordered it because we think she's great.

RUBY NETTLESHIP - Thomas Docherty
This fun book sees Ruby and her friends feeling miserable in a dilapidated park, until Ruby makes an amazing discovery. Life gets pretty exciting for a while and shows the power of a little girl who is brave enough to ask for what she wants.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning in this book. Bought at Letterbox Library again.

RASTAMOUSE and the crucial plan - Michel de Souza and Genevieve Webster

Well this fella is no stranger for most of us, and I included it because the 3G love to hear me do my Caribbean accent. I do my best.

The Cbeebies favourite may now have to be retired from TwickersTowers as the girls are getting a little too old, but he's been here a while and maybe we'll just hang onto him until the nieces are ready.  Was absolutely bombarded to buy this in our local supermarket to shouts of "Mummy Mummy it's Rastamouse"

GRANDPA'S VISIT - Richard Keens-Douglas 
A moral lesson is learnt in this tale of a little (I'll be honest) ungrateful boy more concerned with the telly than his visiting Grandfather. An unfortunate accident brings the family closer together and Jeremy learns his lesson.
It's a little outdated and I'm not that impressed with the writing, but the lesson is very important and probably still relevant.  Bought in Grenada at the airport before we travelled home to the UK