Current events have raised the ongoing issue in British schools regarding BAME representation in literature. This topic has been rumbling for a few years now and although many people have tried to ensure their library provision provides a mixture of all cultures, many are oblivious to the one sided view they offer of the world. I know at my school we had fallen foul of this and it took a deep survey of our library by Jon Biddle to realise we weren’t providing the diversity our children needed. This wasn’t an intentional issue and we had both discussed previously how we had tried to buy a more diverse range of books for our own classes but it was never going to be enough to balance things up when you consider how often publishers stick to what they know.
Over the past two years our school has made a conscious effort to really improve the diversity and choice of literature available to all ages, in all formats. We have definitely got a larger selection of books showcasing BAME characters, cultures and beliefs from around the world but our shelves are far from the finished article. There still is and always will be more texts that require purchasing to ensure children leave with a balanced view of the world and it’s inhabitants. It is particularly important for our children because Norfolk can be very archaic and in places incredibly whitewashed. Casual racism is often tossed about and justified with ‘it’s just a joke’ or ‘that’s what people used to say’ and if you try to correct it you can easily be chastised for trying to ruin a joke.
Personally it has never made any sense to me and never will, perhaps it’s because my parent’s originated from London and therefore had experienced a lot more than some people who have been stuck in Norfolk all their lives. Perhaps it’s just because it never has and never will make any sense to me to make friends based on appearance. Why hang around with someone just because of how they look? If someone is a prick, they will always be one no matter what they look like! However I have to be realistic and realise this is an ongoing battle and just because I’m not racist doesn’t mean other people aren’t. The question is how do we change this?
The answer starts with books and honest discussions.
After reading the brilliant post by Ed Finch (if you haven’t read it, you must! – https://mrefinch.wordpress.com/blog/) I thought about how I could contribute to helping my school follow this example. I love nothing more than talking about the merit of graphic novels as you probably know, if you don’t you soon will. Thinking about literature that refelected other ethnicities, cultures or beliefs made me think about how graphic novels are actually ahead of the game with it. They haven’t always been but they do currently offer a range of stories from big name publishers that have BAME main characters and most importantly promote them and their culture positively. If you look back historically at work like The X-men, a lot of those stories were about everyone being equal no matter what qualities they possessed. Not everyone spends their time reading graphic novels, so here is my guide to some that will work brilliantly in a primary school and that due to current events have become more important than ever.
New Kid – Year 4 onwards. Not only is New Kid a fantastically written story but it covers vital issues. Jordan moves to a new school and as the new kid he finds out that the culture at his new school is very different. He is one of the only African American students at the school which causes quite a culture shock for him. This book is hugely popular in all UKS2 classrooms and it’s messages are more important than ever.
Superman Smashes the Klan – I have let my year 5 children read this but I spoke to the whole class first about the delicate subject matter and would advise issuing it with caution. This story covers some of the issues asian immigrants suffered in America at the hands of the KKK. Brilliant story telling from Gene Luen Yang and a gripping read.
Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur – A brilliant all ages comic that is a huge hit with year 5 & 6 in my school especially my current class. This story is about a child genius named Luna who loves Science and is academically years ahead of where she needs to be. It’s full of action but also covers many life lessons that most ten year olds will go through at some point especially in regards to friendship and not fitting in.
Akissi – Another all ages hit that works well in KS1 & KS2. The tales of a mischevious girl (Akissi) growing up in Africa. It’s light hearted throughout but helps to show how different life is in Africa compared to many people in this country.
Cardboard Kingdom – Perfect for Year 4 onwards. This story shows a group of children trying to entertain themselves throughout the summer holiday. The story ensures a range of problems and ethnicities are included throughout instead of just focusing on middle class white kids from suburbia. It’s a must have for any UKS2 classroom.
Spiderman: Miles Morales – Year 5/6 (some slightly inappropriate words) I love this series and so do the children in my class. If you have seen Into the Spiderverse (Watch it now if you haven’t!) then you will know that the story of Miles is similar to that of Jordan in New Kid. Thrust into a new school that he struggles to feel comfotable in, Miles also has to deal with the responsibility of becoming Spiderman. A refreshing take on the superhero genre that does a lot more than just solve crimes.
Stargazing – Year 5 onwards. A truly brilliant story that really pulls on the heartstrings. The story is about two characters who grow up in a Chinese-American suburb and form a strong friendship despite the difficulties they are presented with along the way.
Mia Mayhem is a Superhero – UKS1 onwards – A tale suitable for younger readers but no less important. Mia is a seemingly normal 8 year old girl until one day she finds out she is a superhero. Soon she has to begin her superhero training despite always thinking she was anything but super before.
The Witch Boy series – Year 5 onwards. A truly beautiful series that raises some really important points about growing up and accepting yourself for who you truly are. These have been very popular with my current class.
Meg,Jo,Beth and Amy: A modern retelling of Little Women. – Primarily Year 6 and up this story offers a fresh take on the classic story of Little Women. It looks at the day to day struggles of sisters and the issues they go through inculding struggles with sexuality (hence year 6 only in primary.)
The Nameless City – Year 5 onwards. This story looks at the idea of ancient tribes battling for control of a city that has changed hands so many times it doesn’t have a name. It explores the idea of rituals belonging to certain tribes and how different cultures clash. A really engaging story full of action that creates some truly emotional moments for the reader.
As children get older and move onto Secondary there are lots of superheroe books that also represent BAME characters brilliantly. Falcon, Storm, Black Panther, Ironheart and America Chavez are staples of Marvel now. Some have primary suitable stories but some don’t so you should read them yourself first before putting them in your classroom. A series I haven’t read but have heard is vital for older children is the March books so that’s another to look out for.