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30 books to ensure literature in primary schools reflects the diversity of students

A primary school teacher and leading academic explain why we need to ensure diversity in children's literature and how schools can help

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A primary school teacher and leading academic explain why we need to ensure diversity in children's literature and how schools can help

There is a damaging lack of diversity in the literature that children encounter in primary schools, according to a primary school teacher and an academic, who detail their argument in an article published in the 30 September issue of TES.

Darren Chetty, who has taught in inner-London primary schools for almost 20 years, and Karen Sands-O’Connor, a professor of children’s literature specialising in black British children’s literature, argue that many primary school children have encountered only books with white human characters. They add that often when they do encounter characters racialised as other than white, it is tied in with the celebration of a holiday such as Diwali, or in connection with Black History Month. 

“It seems reasonable to wish that children see people of all backgrounds as an ordinary part of everyday literature,” they write. “If children do not encounter a rich diet of literature at school, they are being denied key knowledge about themselves and the world. If children are not taught that they can draw on first-hand experiences when they write fiction, then they are being denied key knowledge about what it means to be a writer.”

They go on to explain how schools should and can diversify the literature children encounter and to help this process they have provided a list of 30 books, a selection of which are below. 

Picture Books for Babies and Toddlers

Wriggle Piggy Toes – John Agard

Ackee, Breadfruit, Callaloo – Valerie Bloom

So Much! – Trish Cooke

No, Baby, No! – Grace Nichols

Let’s Feed the Ducks – Pamela Venus


Beginning readers

My Two Grannies – Floella Benjamin

Giant Hiccups – Jacqui Farley 

Lucy’s Rabbit  – Jennifer Northway

Ramadan Moon – Na’ima Robert

Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market – Chitra Soundar

Dave and the Tooth Fairy – Verna Wilkins

J is for Jamaica – Benjamin Zephaniah


Shorter-chapter books 

Pig-Heart Boy – Malorie Blackman

Blackberry Blue and Other Fairy Tales – Jamila Gavin

A Hen in the Wardrobe – Wendy Meddour

Liberté: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan – Jackie Ould (edited by)

Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed – Mahdvi Ramani

Don’t Wear It On Your Head, Don’t Stick It Down Your Pants – John Siddique


Longer-chapter books

Tall Story – Candy Gourlay 

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo – Catherine Johnson

Dream On – Bali Rai

She Wore Red Trainers – Na’ima B Robert

Hurricane – Andrew Salkey

Crongton Knights – Alex Wheatle


Age 14-18 books

Chasing the Stars – Malorie Blackman

Travel Light, Travel Dark – John Agard

Midnight Robber – Nalo Hopkinson

Red Dust Road – Jackie Kay

(Un)arranged Marriage – Bali Rai

Refugee Boy – Benjamin Zephaniah


This is an edited article from the 30 September edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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