REPRESENTATION Black History Month

Black History Month is a nation-wide celebration to honour the struggles, triumphs and contributions of Black and Afro-Caribbean people to the UK and around the world. It takes place annually in October. Eva Wong Nava takes a look at some books that showcase the achievements of Black and Afro-Caribbean authors and illustrators in the UK because representation matters.


This year’s theme for Black History Month is ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’. But as authors and illustrators in the publishing trade, words and pictures are the lyrics and scores we have to sing about our craft and art. Let’s take a look and listen.

                     Diver’s Daughter: A Tudor Story (Scholastic, 2019) 

First look in is Patrice Lawrence’s Diver's Daughter: A Tudor Story. Lawrence needs no introduction in the UK’s children’s book world. She has written numerous books for children and those who follow her achievements will know of Eight Pieces of Silva, which was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize in 2019.


Diver’s Daughter
is for a younger readership and what intrigued me about this story was its period setting — it shows readers that Black people have been in England since Elizabethan times. Lawrence’s protagonist is Eve, who was 'stolen from Mozambique as a child' along with her mother and brought to England during Queen Elizabeth the First’s reign. This book was a fascinating read. Every page is filled with intrigue, written in Lawrence’s alluring prose. I won’t spoil it for you, so here’s a question you’ll want to know before starting on the book: will Eve triumph over her fear of water and rescue her mother?

My Hair (Faber & Faber, 2019); photo credit: Eva Wong Nava

My Hair by Hannah Lee, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan was an absolute delight to read. Firstly, it’s written in verse, making this a fun read: the words sing the story to you. Secondly, I love the illustrations: a subtle earthy colour palette with splashes of pastels, filling each frame with gentle vivacity. Thirdly, the diversity: I learnt about all types of hairstyles — cornrows, Bantu knots, plaits, shaved, cropped — that make styling hair so much more interesting and people more stylish!

Most of all, I love how this story includes characters from the main character’s life — her parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and relatives — who each represent a unique person in the author’s community.

This picture book is important for many reasons and, for me, it is a celebration of Black hair. Hannah Lee says, “Hair is one of the most integral pieces of my identity and, like lots of Black women, I use my hair to express myself.”

It is a statistical fact that Black children are under-represented in children’s books in the UK. As an author who believes strongly that representation of diverse characters must be authentic and accurate in children’s literature, My Hair speaks to the advocate in me. Lee says, “I wanted to give Black children a chance to see themselves and their unique hair type positively represented.” (source) Black hair is a heavily racialised feature of the Black body. In an interview Lee talks about the challenges she faced when she entered the workforce where co-workers felt it was necessary and appropriate to touch her hair. Stories become memorable when there are universal qualities that resonate with readers. For someone who is East Asian, someone like me, the most discussed facial feature are the shape of our eyes, so I felt for Lee when I read about what happened to her. When children’s books celebrate diversity and when authors talk about why they wrote what they did, all readers will come to understand that there are some areas we don’t touch and certain features we don’t discuss, because it is just not appropriate.

Children of the Quicksands (Chicken House, 2021)

Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore, was a thrill to listen to. Read by Gesella Ohaka, I was quickly transported to Simi’s world. Something has to be said about listening to a book read to you. Listening is a skill which we all need to hone I feel, especially me. I started listening to books in order to get through a long TBR list. Initially I found it challenging. I was cooking whilst listening to Quicksands, and therefore it was hard to concentrate. The secret is to listen while you’re doing something mundane, like chopping vegetables or marinaing meat or washing the dishes. Ohaka’s voice enlivened Traore’s words, but it is Traore’s writing that animated the characters and wildlife of Nigeria. I was so immersed in Simi’s world that I burnt the stir fry that night. There’s just something about secrets and family history that kept me listening on. Fear not, dinner was saved in the nick of time.

*Header image: Cabbi Charles


Cabbi Charles writes, illustrates and publishes picture books. Cabbi was shortlisted for the Jericho Prize 2021, and continues to write and develop manuscripts for picture books and middle grade alongside her art. Twitter @zuribooks IG @cabbicharles


Eva Wong Nava
is a child of the diaspora. She lives between two worlds and is a citizen of many universes. She writes across age ranges, but her preferred writing age is between 4 and 8. She is the Feature Editor of Representation at Words & Pictures magazine. 
Contact: W& and find her @evawongnava

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