Supporting Justice (but at what cost?):

Just by looking at the list of books published or forthcoming from these authors, it is clear to see how their work embodies an understanding of what it means to be a person of colour in a white- dominated society, and how important it is that stories of these experiences are told. Sufiya Ahmed’s forthcoming book about Noor Inayat Khan and Catherine Johnson’s books about Alexandre Dumas and Nanny of the Maroons highlight largely-untold histories. Sita Brahmachari’s work, including her forthcoming novel, describes the experiences of migration (both forced and migration by choice). Rashmi Sirdeshpande, who self-describes as a ‘lawyer-turned- storyteller’ wants her readers to believe that they could change the world. Other authors are writing thrillers, mysteries, humorous books and fantasies, giving readers the opportunity to see protagonists of colour in all different types of books.

But many authors and illustrators have struggled to work during this time. The lack of contact with friends and family members, and increased caring responsibilities are struggles that have affected most people during the lockdown. For the authors and illustrators we surveyed, however, their commitment to a just world for all children everywhere has occasioned additional, and painful, stress and anxiety. Jasbinder Bilan says that ‘there have been times when the scale and gravity of the situation just hits you out of nowhere and when I have heard the stories of deaths it has stayed with me, and upset me a lot. Especially when you consider the inequalities surrounding who gets infected.’ Sita Brahmachari agrees, writing that being ill during this time ‘made me reflect on the debt owed to migrant people working in the NHS and Social Care and Key Workers who have been particularly badly impacted during this pandemic. The treatment of BAME key workers, health and societal inequalities have been much on my mind, and in my heart in real life as in fiction.’ Irfan Master reminds us that ‘being a writer in the world is, particularly now, a political act.’ Some of our respondents have specifically commented on the events surrounding the police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Dapo Adeola told us, ‘having to hear about the continued racially motivated killings of Black people at the hands of the police in America was enough to push me to breaking point. During these last three months I’ve gone from crazy highs and lows in energy and lethargy to rage, anger and sadness … to be honest, I’m exhausted.’ One author echoed that exhaustion, writing that the racist incidents in America and the UK ‘has made me question my own writing and the predominantly white industry within which I work.’ We only asked a few writers to respond, but we know that the commitment to community and the concomitant feeling of exhaustion are felt by many British authors of colour. They need our support as much as we need them.

With many thanks, and book plugs to:

Dapo Adeola (Clean Up!, with text by Nathan Bryan, will be published July 2020, Puffin, 978-0241345894, £6.99 pbk)

Sufiya Ahmed (My Story: Noor-un-Nissa Inayat Khan will be published in August 2020, Scholastic, 978-0702300059, £6.99 pbk)

Jasbinder Bilan (Tamarind and the Star of Ishta will be published in September 2020, Chicken House, 978-1913322175, £6.99 pbk)

Sita Brahamachari (When Secrets Set Sail will be published in August 2020, Orion Children’s Books, 978-1510105430, £7.99 pbk)

Catherine Johnson (Queen of Freedom will be published in August 2020, Pushkin Children’s Books, 978-1782692799, £6.99 pbk; and To Liberty! in September 2020, Bloomsbury Education, 978-1472972552, £6.99 pbk)

Savita Kalhan (The Long Weekend was due to be republished this year, but due to Covid-19 the new publication date will be in spring 2021)

Patrice Lawrence (Eight Pieces of Silva will be published in August 2020, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444954746, £7.99 pbk)

Irfan Master (Blair Peach 1979 can be found in the anthology Resist: Stories of Uprising edited by Ra Page, Comma Press, 978- 1912697076, £14.99 hbk)

Zanib Mian (Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission, 978- 1444951295, £6.99 pbk, and My Friend the Alien will be published in July 2020, Bloomsbury Education, 978-1472973900, £6.99 pbk)

Rashmi Sirdeshpande (Never Show a T-Rex a Book, Puffin, 978- 0241392669, £6.99pbk and Dosh: How to Earn it, Save it, Spend it, Grow it and Give it, Wren and Rook, 978-1526362759, £9.99 pbk will appear in August 2020; How to Change the World was due to be published in May but this has been pushed back to January 2021)

Chitra Soundar (Tiger Troubles appeared in June 2020, Bloomsbury Education, 978-1472970824, £4.99 pbk).

Karen Sands-O’Connor is the British Academy Global Professor for Children’s Literature at Newcastle University. Her books include Children’s Publishing and Black Britain 1965- 2015 (Palgrave Macmillan 2017).

Darren Chetty is a teacher, doctoral researcher and writer with research interests in education, philosophy, racism, children’s literature and hip hop culture. He is a contributor to The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla and the author, with Jeffrey Boakye, of What Is Masculinity? Why Does It Matter? And Other Big Questions. He tweets at @rapclassroom.

Books for Keeps No.243 July 2020 17

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