July 15th, 2020

Bookshow at Home: Summer Reading List

As the Summer term draws to a close, we've been thinking about how The Children’s Bookshow can play a part in imagining and helping to create a more equal society.  It can do this in the area in which we work: we can find more BAME writers and illustrators to take part in our theatre performances and school workshops, and we can choose books which have positive images of black children in their stories.  It’s only a little we can do, but it matters, and we’ll continue to seek out the books which will help us to do it.


The Black Lives Matter movement has shown us that we need to do more. To start off, here is our recommended summer reading list celebrating many of the excellent black authors and illustrators with whom we have worked in the past, and some whom we really hope to work with in the future. The list includes picture books, poetry collections and books for older readers, so there should be something for everyone. We really like these books and are sure that you will too.


Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max

Astrid has loved the stars and space ever since she can remember, and she wants to be an astronaut. Her Papa has lots of questions for Astrid: can she get used to zero gravity and eat space food? Astrid is certain that she can, and she has a very special role model to help her realise her ambitions!

Born in Zimbabwe, Ken Wilson-Max now lives in London. He studied graphic design, then started work in children’s publishing before becoming an author and illustrator himself. He loves working with children and teachers and feels strongly that it is important for children of all backgrounds to see themselves in books. He has written and illustrated over 50 books for children.

Watch Ken Wilson-Max read Astro Girl


So Much by Trish Cooke

Mom and the baby aren't doing anything, nothing really, until... the doorbell rings! This book is bursting with family life, love and support, and the story of a house filling up with more and more people ready to celebrate.

Trish Cooke was born in Bradford. From a very young age she loved acting and telling stories, going out into the street with her sisters to perform stories for friends and neighbours! After gaining a degree in performing arts she moved to London and started as scriptwriter and presenter for the BBC on their children’s show Playdays. Trish’s books for children include Full, Full, Full of Love, Tales from the Caribbean and So Much, which won the Smarties Book Prize, the She/WHSmith’s Under-Fives Book Prize and the Kurt Maschler Award.

Helen Oxenbury is among the most popular and critically acclaimed illustrators of her time. She has illustrated countless picture books including children’s classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. She also illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its companion, Alice through the Looking-Glass, both of which won the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal and Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell which won the Smarties Book Prize. She lives in London.


Fruits by Valerie Bloom

This book is a mouthwatering counting guide in rhyme: from pawpaw to mango, two sisters discover all kinds of delicious fruit in and around their house.

Poet Valerie Bloom grew up in Clarendon, Jamaica, before moving to the UK. Caribbean life and culture have shaped and influenced a great deal of her writing and she was enchanted with literature and poetry from a very early age. Her work has been published in over 450 anthologies and she has published several poetry collections.

Inspired by figurative art from Millet to Edward Hopper, David Axtell has been an illustrator for 15 years. In that time he has worked for a wide variety of publishers, has produced book covers for Puffin Classics like The Diaries of Anne Frank and illustrated children’s picture books by well known writers and poets. Originally from Oxford he now lives and works in North Cornwall.


My Two Grandads by Floella Benjamin

Aston's Grandad Harry plays the trumpet in a brass band, while Grandad Roy plays the steel drum in a steel band. Aston brings both his Grandads together in a musical extravaganza delightfully portrayed in this brilliant follow-up to Floella Benjamin's My Two Grannies.

One of six children, Floella Benjamin was born in Trinidad, but was brought up in England. Over the last forty-seven years she has had a diverse and varied career in several sectors of the entertainment industry as an actress, presenter, writer, independent producer, businesswoman and media regulator. She is particularly concerned with the plight of children, their human rights, education and welfare throughout the world. She has written 30 books for children.

Margaret Chamberlain has always loved drawing and remembers making up stories and drawing detailed pictures from a very young age. She went to Canterbury College of Art to study Graphic Design and then to The Royal College of Art for a post graduate degree in Illustration. With the support and encouragement of her tutor, Quentin Blake, her career was launched. She now lives in the Dorset coastal town of Lyme Regis with her cartoonist husband, Ian Dicks. A very strange thing about Margaret is that she has one blue eye and one brown eye!


Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Every Sunday, CJ and his nana catch the bus with all kinds of interesting people: there's Mr Dennis, who always has a treat for CJ, and a lady with butterflies in a jar. This book tells a wonderfully vivid tale of journeying through the city, with the accompanying illustrations bringing a big and beautiful cast of characters to life.

Matt de la Peña is the award-winning author of several young adult novels and five picture books. Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific where he attended school on a full basketball scholarship. Matt teaches creative writing and visits schools and colleges throughout the country. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Christian Robinson was born in Hollywood, California. He grew up in a small one-bedroom apartment with his brother, two cousins, aunt, and grandmother. Drawing became a way to make space for himself and to create the kind of world he wanted to see. He studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts before becoming an illustrator of books for children. He lives in northern California with his rescue greyhound Baldwin and several houseplants.

Watch Christian Robinson show you how to make a map collage!


The Rainmaker Danced by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

These poems take us face to face with a praying mantis in the grass, up into the sky where thunder speaks its own language, and into the land of Hairyboos and Smoothyboos. Accompanied by Satoshi Kitamura's nimble illustrations, this book is thoughtful, truthful and witty, written in language that is full of detail and passion.

John Agard is one of the most thrilling, arresting and spellbinding readers you’ll hear, breathing passion and energy into each of his poems when he speaks them aloud. Born in Guyana in the Caribbean, John moved to Britain in the 1970s and has written lots about what it was like to leave home and the history of the Caribbean, as well as telling stories of his childhood and the myths and legends of Guyana. His latest collection of poetry The Rainmaker Danced was shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2018.

Satoshi Kitamura was born in Japan, and as a child enjoyed reading comics and illustrated novels. After starting his career in advertising, he moved to London and started to write and illustrate his own picture books. His work is beautifully detailed and full of colour and interesting characters. He lives in Kobe, Japan.

Watch John Agard perform 'Taking Sides'

There are lots of great videos of John reading other poems on the CLPE website.


Twinkle, Twinkle, Firefly by Grace Nichols and John Agard

This much loved collection by Grace Nichols and John Agard fizzes with energy. Sometimes humorous, sometimes thoughtful, and always captivating, this collection has a poem for everyone.

Award-winning poet Grace Nichols was born in Guyana and grew up in a small country village on the coast. She studied at the University of Guyana and worked as a teacher and journalist before moving to the UK in 1977. Grace’s poetry is full of imagination and surprise, warmth and wit. She writes about what it was like for her growing up, as well as how it feels to be far away from home. Grace writes poems for adults and children, and has won lots of prizes and awards. She lives in the UK with her partner, the poet John Agard.


Hot Like Fire by Valerie Bloom

Experience a wonderful slice of life with Valerie Bloom's vibrant and colourful voice. From pirates to ghosts to the perils of what packed lunch to take on a school trip, the poems in Hot Like Fire are bursting with energy, both on the page and when read out loud.

Poet Valerie Bloom grew up in Clarendon, Jamaica, before moving to the UK. Caribbean life and culture have shaped and influenced a great deal of her writing and she was enchanted with literature and poetry from a very early age. Her work has been published in over 450 anthologies and she has published several poetry collections.

Watch Valerie Bloom perform 'Two Seasons'


Red, Cherry Red by Jackie Kay

A book of captivating and powerful poems, featuring Scotland's beautiful, wild landscapes and a cast of captivating characters. Flashes of crimson run through the poems in the form of fire, a fox, red shoes, a red balloon.

Jackie Kay is an award winning author of poetry, fiction and plays for adults and children. She is the third modern Makar, the Scottish poet laureate. Jackie is an extraordinary performer of her work, drawing her audience in with incredible warmth, humour and compassion. Her first novel for children, Strawgirl was published in 2002 and her collection of poetry for children Red, Cherry Red won the 2008 CLPE Poetry Award.


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

This story, about twelve year old Josh and his twin Jordan, is a joyful and dynamic celebration of language. A novel told in verse, with striking illustrations, this book is about basketball and much more: as they progress into young adulthood, navigating the pressures of home and school, the relationship between Josh and Jordan begins to change.

Kwame Alexander is the New York Times Bestselling author of 32 books, including The Undefeated, The Write Thing and Rebound which was shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal, as well as The Crossover which won the Newberry medal. He writes in a studio he built a few years ago. It has huge windows, a large painting of John Coltrane, 3000 books, heated floors, a blue couch, and a loft! Kwame is the Founding Editor of Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that aims to Change the World One Word at a Time.

Watch Kwame Alexander read an excerpt from The Crossover

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