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stories have stayed in the margins, citing The Secret Garden as one such example amongst classic British children’s literature. Brahmachari has spoken also of the challenge of capturing the voice of those whose voices were not recorded. The story is a story of excavation – not merely adapting existing narratives for a modern, young audience.


Sufiya Ahmed’s Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan (Scholastic 2020) is written in the first person and covers Noor’s childhood in France, her early career as a children’s author (her version of Jatarka Tales is still in in print), and her work in France as part of the Special Operations Executive during the second World War. The daughter of an Indian Muslim who is said to have introduced Sufism to the Western world and a white American woman whose half-brother was a pioneering American yogi, Noor defies easy categorisation. She was born in Moscow, grew up in Paris and moved to London. She supported Indian independence and was influenced by her father’s pacificism. She fought for the British against Nazi Germany. Ahmed’s narrative balances the thriller element of Khan’s story with the horror of the war and her eventual execution at Dachau with great sensitivity.


Beyond Britain, Catherine Johnson’s To Liberty: The Adventures of Thomas Alexandre Dumas provides a fascinating biography of the man who was the most senior Black soldier in any army in Europe as well as the father of Alexandre Dumas the writer. Johnson’s ability to write compellingly whilst basing her narrative on thorough research has marked her out as one of the finest current writers for children and young adults. Children of the Benin Kingdom (Dinosaur Books 2020) is a work of fiction set in the Edo Kingdom of Benin in the 12th century roughly seven hundred years prior to its annexation by the British Empire. A fast-paced adventure story of Ada’s quest to understand her true identity, Dinah Oriji’s debut novel includes a detailed appendix that provides the reader with further information about the ancient Kingdom of Benin and West African culture and traditions.


Candy Gourlay’s Bone Talk (2018) is a critically-acclaimed work of fiction set at the time of the colonial encounter between American soldiers and indigenous Filipinos from the point of view of Samkad, a young Filipino boy. Gourlay’s Ferdinand Magellan (2020), part of the First Names series from David Fickling Books, goes some way to challenging the hero narratives employed to write about European explorers traditionally published in Britain. From the book’s cover we see that the account offered is multi-perspectival. “I’m the first person to discover these islands!” Magellan announces. “Oi! We’ve lived here for centuries!” responds a smaller drawn figure. We might nevertheless perceive that the decision to publish this history under the title Ferdinand Magellan gives greater weight to ‘Ferdinand’s’ perspective – indeed the alternative perspectives in the book are often in the comic-style illustrations provided by


Tom Knight, reminiscent of the Horrible Histories series, rather than the main text. A key illustration of Magellan’s men invading Mactan (p129), is drawn from their point of view, which has the effect of making the local population, not the invaders, appear to be the aggressors. However it is important to note that in the Epilogue it is stated in bold, that ‘the locals were robbed’ and thus “[t]o them the Age of Exploration is the Age of Exploitation.” Given that as recently as 2019 a children’s book published by Laurence King presented Magellan as ‘steely’ and his actions as uncontroversially heroic, Gourlay’s book destabilises the notion of an uncontested Eurocentric narrative and as such signifies a break from convention. It comes at an important moment for education and publishing and invites questions as to how to most effectively contextualise historical figures so as to teach a history oriented towards truth rather than glorification.


Books mentioned


Cane Warriors, Alex Wheatle, Andersen Press, 978-1783449873, £10.99 hbk


Resistance and Abolition, Dan Lyndon-Cohen, Franklin Watts, 978-1445180847, £8.99 pbk


When Secrets Set Sail, Sita Brahmachari, Orion Children’s Books, 978-1510105430, £7.99 pbk


Ferdinand (Magellan), Candy Gourlay, David Fickling Books, 978-1788450416, £6.99 pbk


Children of the Benin Kingdom, Dinah Orji, Dinosaur Books, 978-1999336332, £6.99 pbk Voices series, various, published by Scholastic,


To Liberty: The Adventures of Thomas Alexandre Dumas, Catherine Johnson, Bloomsbury Education, 978-1472972552, £6.99 pbk


Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan, Sufiya Ahmed, Scholastic, 978-0702300059, £6.99 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.244 September 2020 15


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