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Reading lists

Great books to make your reading pile more inclusive

Lit in Colour, Penguin's campaign to help diversify English Literature in schools, is just getting started. Here's a list of brilliant books by writers of colour whatever your reading age and ability.

This year, Penguin has partnered with race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust to create Lit in Colour, a campaign to support teachers and schools in making the books studied in schools more inclusive.

Our research has discovered that less than 1% of students in England currently study a book by a writer of colour at GCSE – despite 34.4% of school age children identifying as Black, Asian or minority ethnic.

The good news is that, whether you're a parent, carer or grandparent, there's no shortage of brilliant books by writers of colour you can buy or borrow from your local library and introduce to the young person in your life. 

Read from the top, or skip to your child's year group here:

Primary School

From beautiful picture books about new experiences, laugh out loud adventures and magical tales, to bitesized chapter books perfect to build confidence in reading. Explore our hand-picked selection below or view the full list with our downloadable PDF.

Years 3-4

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad, S. K. Ali, Hatem Aly (Illustrator)

Starting school is one of life's greatest adventures but it can also be quite daunting. Which is why The Proudest Blue is the perfect picture book for dispelling first day nerves. It's Faizah's first day of school and her older sister Asiya's first day of wearing hijab. But while Faizah thinks her sister's blue hijab is beautiful, not everyone feels the same way. Faced with hurtful words, Faizah has to find new ways to be strong.

Themes/topics: Self-confidence, Religion, Bullying

Billy and the Beast by Nadia Shireen

Have a hair raising adventure with Billy - a heroine for our times. Billy is busy exploring the woods with her trusty sidekick Fatcat when she hears a horrible rumble from a Terrible Beast who happens to be making a soup using her friends as ingredients. Will Billy save the day? We wouldn't want to spoil the surprise but Billy does return in a second book involving a fire-breathing dragon.

Themes/topics: Self-confidence, Humour, Adventure

Explore your child's favourite school subjects with facinating stories from pioneers in their fields. The Extraordinary Lives series shines a light on modern and historical figures in bitesize biographies and there are some great stories to inspire, from tennis champion Serena Williams to education campaigner Malala Yousafzai. 

Themes/topics: Black history, Feminism, STEM, Women in science, Civil Rights

Years 5-6

Tall Story by Candy Goulay

Tall Story is the tale of separated siblings and the clash of two very different cultures. It follows Andi, who has a lot of wishes. She wishes she could be taller and could play on the school basketball team.  But mostly, she wishes that her long lost half brother Bernardo could come and live with her in London. When Andi's wish comes true and Bernardo arrives from the Philippines, he's not just tall, but a giant. Packed full of humour, Goulay's book was listed for 13 prizes including the Carnegie Medal and the Blue Peter Book Awards. 

Themes/topics: Adventure, Self-confidence, Humour

Funky Chickens by Benjamin Zephaniah

Zephaniah is one of Birmingham’s most famous writers and poets and is the only Rastafarian poet to be shortlisted for the Chairs of Poetry for both Oxford and Cambridge University. He writes both adult and children’s books. Funky Chickens is his second poetry collection for kids and  touches on anything from vegetables to the Queen and from sewage to the sun. There's plenty of humour as well as poems on racism, pollution and the murder of a cat.

Topics/themes: Love, Racism, Humour

Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, Joe Todd-Stanton (illustrator), Emily Balistrieri (translator) 

This magical story is about trainee witch Kiki, who on her 13th birthday must follow tradition and leave home to find a new village. Kiki is no good at potions or spells, so decides to use her flying abilities to make her own way in the world, accompanied by her beloved black cat Jiji. Kadono’s novel was first published in Japanese in 1985 and adapted into an animated Studio Ghibli film, written, produced and directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. 

Themes/Topics: Magic, Friendship, Adventure

Secondary School

Bedtime stories might be a thing of the past as your child progresses through secondary school but sharing and talking about books with is still a powerful way to connect. There is a vast array of award-winning, compelling stories to explore in our downloadable PDF and a few suggestions below to get you started. 

Years 7-9

 Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Noughts & Crosses is the first book in a series exploring a world split into two: Black people are known as Crosses, and are the majority and the elite, holding all positions of power and the greatest wealth, while the white noughts are second-class citizens. Through a friendship, and a budding relationship, between Cross Sephy and nought Callum, Blackman explores racism, prejudice, and politics which will spark endless conversations and debates. 

First published in 2001, the inspiration for Blackman’s now-legendary YA novel was the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, and the institutional racism exposed at the Metropolitan Police by the investigation into the crime. 

Topics/themes: Race, Racism, Politics, Love

Crossover series by Kwame Alexander 

The perfect choice to get sporty kids hooked on reading. Kwama Alexander's Crossover series tackles big topics like family dynamics, grief, and bullying all played out in the world of sport. The Crossover is about twins Josh and Jordon, who are star players on their school's basketball team who are tested by hardship on and off the court. Booked follows Nick, a football fan who has to navigate bullying at school and his parents' break-up. And last but not least, Rebound which is the story of Charlie who uses basketball as a means to stay out of trouble. 

Themes/topics: Sport, Bullying, Death, Grief

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

A number one New York Times bestseller that was also adapted for the silver screen starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson, Everything, Everything is the story of Maddy, who is allergic to everything. She is strictly confined to the sterile sanctuary of her home, watching the world go by outside her window. And then Olly moves in next door, and Maddy realises that being alive is not the same as living. As Olly and Maddy begin to fall in love, Maddy begins to question her life and her relationship with her mother. 

Themes/topics: Health, Mental health, Family, Romance

Years 10-11

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla 

This collection of essays by 21 people of colour address what it means to be an immigrant or the child of immigrants in the UK.  The Good Immigrant was inspired by a discussion around why society deems people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until they do something exceptional, like win Olympic medals or nationally televised baking competitions.  Compiled of essays by 21 people of colour including actors Riz Ahmed and Himesh Patel, and journalists Bid Adewunmi and Coco Khan, the book addresses what it means to be an immigrant or the child of immigrants in the UK. 

Topics/themes: Race, belonging, British history, Representation

Poor by Caleb Femi

Poet Femi’s debut book combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in 21st century Peckham. Femi looks at experiences including being stopped and searched at 13, walking through estates of almost 1,500 homes without touching the ground, and how a built environment of concrete and gentrification writes a history of South London youth.

Poor is also the story of Femi’s own youth, a tribute to the rappers and artists he loves, and to the world that shaped him.

Actor and writer Michaela Coel said of Femi: “Oh my God, he's just stirring me. Destroying me.” Poor was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize and chosen as a book of 2020 by The New Statesman, The Times, The Guardian and more.

Themes/topics: Coming-of-age, Masculinity

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi 

Avni Doshi’s debut novel is about Antara and her mother Tara, whose relationship has been fractious and tense since Antara was a child. As Tara begins to show the early signs of dementia, Antara is forced to care for her mother in a way that Tara never cared for her. Burnt Sugar was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020 and won the Sushila Devi Award 2021, and was originally published in India under the title Girl in White Cotton. The Booker Prize judges said the book was “beautifully written,  emotionally wrenching and poignant in equal measure”.

Themes/topics: Motherhood, Family, Love, Health, Illness

Sixth form

Whether your young person is studying English A-level or not, the benefits of continuing to read are unlimited. Talking about books can not only provide them with a greater understanding of the world around them but help students home in their analytical skills and develop the ability to craft an argument and our books for years 12-13 are perfect for sparking conversations about big topics. As a family you might also be considering their next steps in life - and we also have books on our list to help with life after school from inspiring voices from a variety of professional industries.

Years 12-13

These pocket-sized guides are part of the How To series from #Merky Books, an imprint curated by Stormzy. 

Each book explores one big idea like fixing your finances to growing your own brand. In How to Change It, artist and organiser Virasami sets out lessons for successful campaigning, drawing on the work of movements including Extinction Rebellion, Occupy and Black Lives Matter. Short and practical these books are the perfect start for unlocking your potential. 

Themes/topics: Activism, Business, Finance 

Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera

Journalist Sanghera looks at the legacy of imperialism and the British Empire on UK society today in his first history book. Combining memoir and history, Empireland is split into sections examining topics including politics, British exceptionalism, racism and more. Through the book, Sanghera makes the argument that the UK needs to talk about its history – mainly via education – if it is to truly combat some of the worst aspects of present-day society.

Themes/topics: Colonialism, British history, Racism, Race, Migration 

Surge by Jay Bernard

Award-winning writer Bernard’s poetry collection Surge is an exploration of the New Cross Fire in 1981, when 13 young Black people were killed in a house fire at a birthday party. The New Cross Massacre, as it is known, was initially believed to be a racist attack, and the indifference that greeted the tragedy marked a new era of race relations in Britain. Bernard traces a line between New Cross and the Grenfell disaster, and sines a light on an unacknowledged chapter of British history.

Themes/topics: Race, Racism, Justice

Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

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