When I started this blog, I wanted to showcase inclusive children’s books and it has been amazing to see so many wonderful new books published. Last year, I recommended our favourite 20 Picture Books featuring characters of colour.
This year, I have reviewed lots of wonderful, inclusive books and I want to finish off the year by recommending 12 more outstanding picture books featuring characters of colour and/or about racism…
Luna Loves Dance by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers
My whole family adores the Luna series, and this might be my four-year-old’s favourite book yet! Like Luna, my daughter loves to dance, and Fiona’s vibrant illustrations make this book a party from start to finish.
When Luna dances, she feels like the world’s volume turns up, as if all colours brighten, and sunlight sparkles behind every cloud. Your heart goes out to Luna as her dance exam takes a horrible turn. She ducks, dives, spins and… falls!
Afterwards, Luna doesn’t think she can be a “real” dancer. But she can’t shake her love of dancing and her family are there to show her what being a real dancer really means. The extra-special treat is the stunning fold-out carnival spread that brings all the joyful vibes right into your living room.
Luna Loves Dance has a powerful and important message for children. Joseph and Fiona are a dream picture book duo, and this is an absolute must-read!
Published by Andersen Press, 2 September 2021
We’re Going to Find the Monster by Malorie Blackman and Dapo Adeola
Talking of super picture book duos, I was JUMPING with excitement when I heard Malorie and Dapo were doing a book together. Wow, it doesn’t disappoint! Having grown up with We’re All Going on a Bear Hunt I adored this contemporary inclusive bear hunt story with fun rhyming refrain.
Two young, imaginative explorers transform with home into a fantastical wonderland. They set out over a shimmering ocean, up the massive mountain, and through the deep, dark forest… Throughout the spreads they joyfully proclaim: WE’RE GOING TO FIND THE MONSTER!
This is one of those books that is not only an outstanding story, but ambassadors in children’s publishing, Malorie and Dapo, have chosen to include incidental representation in the book. One of the main characters has a skin condition called vitiligo.
We’re Going to Find the Monster is a classic-in-the-making. It is a story my daughters love to read again and again!
Published by Puffin, 2 September 2021
SuperJoe Does NOT Do Cuddles by Michael Catchpool and Emma Proctor
I loved the title of this book, and its message really pulls at the heart strings. Joe is about to discover that cuddles are powerful things.
SuperJoe flies around the neighbourhood rescuing people from escaped tigers, runaway trains and raging rivers, all while battling his nemesis the Grey Shadow.
Joe is convinced he doesn’t need cuddles, he doesn’t have time. Until one night, when he can’t sleep…
My daughter really liked seeing that being a superhero doesn’t mean that you need to be invincible. Michael and Emma have done a great job of balancing the light and shade of Joe’s personality. This gorgeous picture book will want you want a nice, big, warm cuddle!
Published by Lantana Publishing, 23 September 2021
Race Cars by Jenny Devenny, edited by Charnaie Gordon
This book brought me to tears. Told through a simple analogy of a car race, it explains the rigged societal system, what white privilege looks like, and explains the damage institutional racism does to people of colour.
Two best friends, a white car and a black car, love to race. But despite driving in the same race, the rules are different. We see the committee bending the rules to deliberately make the race not an even playing field. But what will the white car do when they realise what is happening? Will anyone speak up for what’s right?
The race car analogy was first created by clinical social worker and child therapist, Jenny Devenny, and has been edited by diversity expert, Charnaie Gordon. Simplistic illustrations have been used to great effect in the book to help drive (pun intended!) the powerful messages home. This book will bring up lots of questions and there is a superb section at the back of the book which has discussion questions and answers set out spread-by-spread to cover all the content in the book.
Race Cars offers a simple, but extraordinarily powerful, way to talk about racial bias with young children. This book NEEDS to be read by everyone and my wish is that it will be stocked in every classroom and library around the world.
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 11 May 2021
My Dad is a Grizzly Bear by Swapna Haddow and Dapo Adeola
This was one of the books I had been looking forward to all year and it did not disappoint! The tone of the book is set from the very first spread. We love picture books where the illustrations play with our expectations and that exactly what My Dad Is A Grizzly Bear does. Our main character, a little boy says, “Shhh. Beware. My dad is a grizzly bear.” We see Dad brushing his teeth and he really is a grizzly bear! Or is he?
Like all grizzly bears, Dad likes to go on loooong walks taking big strides. My daughter really liked this autumnal forest walk, particularly the squirrels looking on and the little boy stamping on the leaves. But what happens if you meet a grizzly bear out in the wild? A gigantic, terrifying, hungry grizzly bear?
Swapna and Dapo have taken every available opportunity to pack this book full of humour and diverse representation. I adore this cinema spread. We all know that grizzly bear who snores through the film. The expressions on each and every person in the cinema is genius. We spent a long time talking about how the different characters felt: annoyed, scared, embarrassed, curious.
Published by Macmillan, 29 April 2021
My Beautiful Voice by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys
No one writes moving, lyrical books the way author and poet, Joseph Coelho does. Allison’s heart-warming illustrations bring this gorgeous picture book to life.
Told in first person through the eyes of the little shy child, we witness the transformation an inspirational teacher can have. With the encouragement on an enchanting teacher, the child writes a poem.
But a poem is meant to be read aloud! Can the child find their voice to read it aloud? Allison’s illustration of the child’s beautiful voice is perfect.
My daughter can be very shy and loves to write stories, so it was lovely to be able to share this book with her. My Beautiful Voice shows us that no matter our personality, everyone’s voice can be powerful and big in its own special way. Simply beautiful.
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 3 August 2021
Cocoa Girl Awesome Hair by Serlina Boyd
This bold and bright how-to guide is a celebration of textured hair, with step-by-step tutorials. Children will learn how to create the perfect cornrows, hair puffs, bubble braids and fro-hawks as well as accessorise with beads, hairbands, ribbons and colourful hair extensions.
Filled with photographs of young children of colour, every hair texture is represented. There is a fantastic range of styles to try as well as care tips for keeping your hair in tip top condition.
I loved the positive affirmations throughout the book, including the spread looking at Black hair icons and the history of Black hair.
I WISH I had had this book as a child. Growing up, most of my family had no idea how to style my hair and I felt very self-conscious of my curls. This book would have helped me to learn to love my hair from a much younger age as well as given my family tips to help me style it. Awesome Hairis a must-have for any young Black child.
Published by Farshore, 14 October 2021
Rapping Princess by Hannah Lee and Allen Fatimaharan
We loved the empowering picture book, My Hair by Hannah Lee and Allen Fatimaharan, so we couldn’t wait to read this next picture book by the duo. What’s more it is rhyming and about rap!
Here is a story that everyone should know. It’s the tale of a princess named Shiloh. But while every princess in the kingdom could sing. Young Shiloh’s voice could do no such thing…
Shiloh begins to wonder if her sisters got all the talent and there is none left for her. Through this vibrant picture book, we learn that while Shiloh might not be able to sing like her sisters, she has other talents. Allen’s rich and colourful illustrations are a pure delight.
Rapping Princess encourages children to celebrate and embrace their differences. Hannah’s bouncing rhythm in this book brings the joy of rap to the page. My daughters love this book!
Published by Faber & Faber, 5 August 2021
Never Teach a Stegosaurus to Do Sums by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Diane Ewen
Rashmi and Diane are two of the most exciting rising stars in children’s publishing. We have loved their other books such as Coming to England, illustrated by Diane and written by Floella Benjamin, and How to be Extraordinary written by Rashmi and illustrated by Annabel Tempest. So, we couldn’t wait to dive into the duo’s series which launched in 2020 with Never Show a T-Rex a Book!
In Never Teach a Stegosaurus to Do Sums, we burst straight into the action, with a little girl teaching a stegosaurus some maths. Every spread has so many little maths details and hints of the first book in the series too.
But we quickly learn what mischief might occur if you teach a stegosaurus to do sums… As we move through the book this laugh-out-loud wacky adventure soars to new heights. My daughter loved the rocket spread. But will the world ever recover?!
As a mathematician myself, Never Teach a Stegosaurus to Do Sums made my heart sing. It is a brilliantly engaging, love letter to learning and the power of numbers. We loved it!
Published by Puffin, 27 May 2021
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C James
This USA bestselling picture book is a statement to all young Black boys around the world: you are worthy and you are loved. The book is written in first person from the point of view of a confident young Black boy, who knows exactly who he is and what he can achieve. Anything and everything.
The book has a natural beat and rhythm that pulls you along. It’s direct and unapologetically bold, which leaves the reader feeling uplifted. I loved the spread where we see him as a scientist: I am one eye open, one eye closed… gazing through a telescope… plotting out those far-off places I have yet to go – but will.
Gordon’s striking and evocative illustrations are just as powerful as Derrick’s words. But there is also a softer side to this book. In which the boy’s vulnerabilities are explored. He is a brother, a son, a nephew, a friend. And he is real. He is honest.
I Am Every Good Thing is bursting with positive affirmations for young Black boys. It is a true opportunity for Black boys to see themselves represented in a picture book, something that is very much needed. Read my full review here.
Published in the UK by Egmont Press, 4 February 2021
Hey You! by Dapo Adeola with Jade Orlando, Reggie Brown, Chanté Timothy, Sharee Miller, Diane Ewen, Onyinye Iwu, Gladys Jose, Bex Glendining, Dunni Mustapha, Charlot Kristensen, Camilla Sucre, Jobe Anderson, Joelle Avelino, Nicole Miles, Kingsley Nebechi, Derick Brooks, and Selom Sunu
There are some books that you just KNOW are going to be special from the moment you hear about them. Hey You! is one of those books. It is a celebration of inclusive storytelling on so many levels. This is Dapo’s first authored picture book, and it is the first ever picture book to feature 18 Black illustrators. Alyissa Johnson created the typography and the other 17 illustrators created a spread each.
At the start of the book is a letter from Dapo, explaining how he wrote this book in response to the events of 2020.
This lyrical picture book is a message to our children, to show them how much we love and cherish them. To remind them they can achieve anything and be proud of their Black heritage and stand together.
Reading this with my girls, I felt incredibly emotional. This is the book I wish I’d read as a child, and I feel so grateful to be able to read it with my children now. Dapo speaks from the heart and the way the illustrators have brought his words to life blew my mind. Each artist has used their own unique style, but there is a connectedness that binds this book together. Each spread flows into the next, and the power of the words grow with every page turn. The ending is perfect. Read my full review and my interview with ALL the illustrators of Hey You! here.
Hey You! was published by Puffin, 10 June 2021
My Skin, Your Skin by Laura Henry-Allain MBE and Onyinye Iwu
There have been so many wonderful fiction picture books celebrating Black children, and some with incidental representation. But there is also a need for a book that addresses the tough questions surrounding racism. My Skin, Your Skin by Laura Henry-Allain MBE and Onyinye Iwu is the picture book that does just that.
Alongside explaining what racism is and how it is never acceptable, Laura and Onyinye also show the importance of being anti-racist. Most importantly, the book empowers children to be the best versions of themselves; to have self-love, self-esteem and self-worth, irrespective of their skin colour.
The language used throughout the book is accessible and there is a useful glossary included. Onyinye has used a great range of layouts, so each spread of the book fills unique and showcases Laura’s powerful messages.
My Skin, Your Skin is relevant for all children, to instil empathy and for children of colour to feel empowered. Racism is never okay and we need to talk about it, to bring about change. I hope every school and library will stock a copy of this book.
Published by Ladybird, 21 October 2021
I am very grateful to the publishers for providing me with complimentary copies of these books. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.