After the end of the Second World War, British citizens from the Commonwealth were invited to relocate to Britain to help rebuild the country. Not all were made welcome and many suffered discrimination and racism because of the colour of their skin. Due to various changes in law, and the government’s determination to be seen to be taking a tougher stance on those now deemed illegal immigrants, many people who had travelled to Britain legally as part of the Windrush generation now lacked the proper paperwork to stay here.
I am delighted to have two very different books telling the two different Windrush journeys, one real and one fictionalised, to share with you today.
‘Coming to England,’ by Floella Benjamin, illustrated by Diane Ewen (Macmillan Children’s Books)
This picture book tells the true story of a ten-year-old Floella’s journey from Trinidad to England with hope of a new life in London.
Floella and the rest of her class had learnt all about England and how cold it was! When her dad followed his dream to play the saxophone in England, then her mum and siblings, Floella waited impatiently for her turn to go.
Finally her turn came, she and her remaining siblings packed their best clothes and boarded an enormous ship which was to be their home for the next 15 days. Unaccompanied, they got up to all sorts of mischief but finally they reached their destination – England. It took a while to settle in and people weren’t very friendly at first, but eventually they settled in and found their home.
A tale of courage and overcoming adversity to follow your dreams. 4+
‘Windrush Child,’ by Benjamin Zephaniah, illustrated by Two Dots Creative (Scholastic)
This is the newest title in Scholastic’s powerful ‘Voices’ series – a set of gripping stories which reflect the diverse unsung heroes of out past. Written by acclaimed author and poet (and Windrush child) Dr Benjamin Zephaniah, ‘Windrush Child’ is an amalgamation of the stories – good, bad and ugly, told to him by people of his generation about growing up in the ‘mother country.’
Leonard’s father moved to England to start making a better life for his family when Leonard was just a baby. All his childhood, Leonard has only known his mother and grandmother and their sun-drenched life in Jamaica. When his father sends for Leonard and his mother join him in England, Leonard knows that he has no choice but to go.
Arriving in Manchester is a shock for Leonard – the weather is cold, his father is a stranger, and people aren’t as friendly as he had imagined they’d be. But his parents have brought him here to make a better life so Leonard tries his beat to work hard, make friends and stay out of trouble. This isn’t always easy when so many things seem to count against him.
This wonderful book is an at times hard-hitting introduction to the many difficulties and racism experienced by thousands of people who came to Britain as part of the Windrush generation. Sadly, it mirrors the situation in this country now with many other immigrants facing hostility.
In order to learn from the past, children first need to understand it. Only then can they ensure that historical mistakes aren’t repeated in the future. That’s what makes this series of books so important – they raise awareness of the stories of people who have made Britain home over the centuries and encourage discussion and empathy.
Leonard’s story will not fail to move you. Nothing is sugar-coated for the reader, including the use of racial slurs which were in common usage in the era this story is set but are no longer acceptable. His struggle to fit in but stay true to his values and beliefs is real and something that all readers will have experienced in different ways. Powerful, important and moving – I’d recommend this for readers aged 9+ with some conversations around historical context.
*Many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books and Scholastic for sending me these titles to review*