The (incomplete) Lit in Colour book list: Years 7-9

Have a look at some titles in the lists for years 7-9.

The book lists for years 7 to 9 include titles on sport, family, grief, friendship, mental health, immigration and more. The titles in the lists for years 12 and 13 including books on activism, British history, love, identity, family, politics and more. You can download the full 2021 list herethe full 2022 list here, and the full 2023 list here, and get a taster of the books in all the lists below.

Birdgirl by May-Rose Craig

Known as Birdgirl on social media, Mya Rose-Craig is a birder, environmentalist and diversity activist. To date, she has seen more than 5,000 different types of birds, around half the world’s species – and she’s only in her early 20s.

In her book Birdgirl, Craig tells the story of how she came to be a birder, and impresses upon the reader the extraordinary nature of birds of all kinds.

Birdgirl won the Somerset Maugham Award. Kirkus Reviews said the book was “an excellent mix of travelogue, memoir, and advocacy”.

Themes/topics: Nature, Environment, Activism

Friday I'm in Love by Camryn Garrett

Mahalia Harris wants a big Sweet Sixteen party, the cute new girl Siobhan to like her back, and a break from worrying about money, snide classmates and more.

It’s too late for the birthday party, but Mahalia decides on a coming-out party, where she can celebrate queerness on her own terms. As she tries to save money and flirt awkwardly with Siobhan, Mahalia finds herself overwhelmed with schoolwork and responsibilities, putting her perfect party at risk.

Garrett was selected as a TIME for Kids reporter when she was 13, and in 2015 was named as one of MTV’s 8 Inspiring Teens Using Social Media to Change the World. Friday I’m in Love is her third novel.

Themes/topics: Coming-of-age, Friendship, Love, LGBTQ+

Breathe by Sadiq Khan

London mayor Sadiq Khan’s first book is a call to action and a playbook on how to win the argument on the environment.

When the politician was unexpectedly diagnosed with asthma aged 43, brought on by the polluted London air he had been breathing for decades, it was a wake-up call for a man who previously hadn’t considered the dangers of pollution or its connection with climate change.

Khan draws on his personal and political experiences for Breathe, looking at seven ways that environmental action is derailed, and how to get it back on track.

Khan became Mayor of London in 2016, and is currently serving his second term in the role.

Themes/topics: Environment, Health, Climate change, Politics, Activism

Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington

Joelle Wellington’s Their Vicious Games is a twisty YA thriller set in a school for the very rich and powerful. Adina Walker, who is neither of those things, finds her scholarship to the school revoked when she gets in a fight with a fellow student.

But an invitation to The Finish, a sinister game hosted by the powerful Remington family, could be her salvation. That is, until the contestants start to die one by one.

Their Vicious Games is a sharp commentary on race and class, for fans of
Squid Game and Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades.

Themes/topics: Privilege, Power, Friendship, Wealth, Inequality

2023 list

The 3rd (incomplete) Lit in Colour secondary book list, this year with focus pages highlighting the work of particularly prominent writers.


Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

Infused with West African mythology, Skin of the Sea is about Simidele, who is a Mami Wata, one of the mermaids duty-bound to collect the souls of
those who die at sea and bless their journeys back home to the Supreme Creator. When she rescues a living boy thrown overboard by a slave ship, Simidele endangers the lives of her community, and has to make a journey she cannot fail.

A sequel to Skin of the Sea, called Soul of the Deep, will be released in autumn 2022 and will continue the story.

This book is for fans of The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and Circe by Madeleine Miller.

Themes/topics: Adventure, Mythology, Slavery

Black Joy by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Timi Sotire (editors)

An anthology of writing, this book is edited by former gal-dem editor-in-chief Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, who is now a senior staff editor at the New York Times, and Timi Sotire, an up-and-coming talent.

Among the contributors to the collection, which celebrates Black British culture in all its glory, are comedian Munya Chawawa, politician Diane Abbott, author Vanessa Kisuule and writer, performer and theatre maker Travis Alabanza.

Topics covered include Nigerian dance hall parties, the importance of having a work BFF, and the pleasure of tucking into chicken and chips after

This book is perfect for fans of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies), edited by Scarlett Curtis, Slay in Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené and Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola.

Themes/topics: Black history

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of books including Between the World and Me, which won America’s National Book Award, and the essay
collection We Were Eight Years in Power. His essay “The Case for Reparations”, written for the Atlantic, won the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award.

He grew up in the 1980s in Baltimore, with seven siblings, four mothers and a father, Paul Coates, who was a Vietnam veteran and a Black Panther.

In The Beautiful Struggle, adapted from his adult memoir Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, he tells the story of his upbringing, his experiences as a young Black person, and his relationship with his father.

Themes/topics: Family, Black history, Masculinity

Rani and Sukh by Bali Rai

Set between modern-day Britain and Punjab in the 1950s and 1960s, Rai’s novel is about tragedy and conflict, and love.

In 1950s Punjab, a secret affair goes wrong, and the bride dies by suicide after her lover is attacked by her family. The two families involved are separated by the violence forever.

In 2004 in Leicester, Rani and Sukh fall in love, completely unaware of the conflict between their families, and the tragic past that still affects their lives. Rani and Sukh must try and avert tragedy and escape the cycle of violence that threatens their future.

Rai’s debut novel (Un)arranged Marriage was critically acclaimed, and was shortlisted for the Branford Boase award.

Topics/themes: Death, grief, family

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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.

Blackman’s book presents 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 more.

Noughts & Crosses is the first in a series; Blackman has since written four more books in the series (Knife Edge, Checkmate, Double Cross, and Crossfire) with a fifth and final, Endgame, due out in summer 2021.

Topics/themes: Race, racism, politics, love

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Yoon’s second novel is told from the perspectives of two characters. On one side is the practical Natasha, who doesn’t have a moment to waste: she and her family are being deported back to Jamaica at 10pm. Meanwhile, dreamer Daniel is on his way to a life-changing interview, having become the focus for his Korean parents since his older brother dropped out of Harvard.

When Natasha and Daniel’s lives collide, it results in love, tragedy and hope for both of them.

Yoon’s book goes back and forth between the two characters, and the majority takes place during the course of one day.

The Sun is Also a Star was a National Book Award Finalist, a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and a New York Times Notable Book of 2016.

Topics/themes: Love, immigration

Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Becoming is a powerful and inspiring memoir. The book takes readers on a journey through Obama’s childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing motherhood and work, and her time in the White House. Becoming is deeply personal, and also inspired a documentary of the same name.

Obama has also published a special edition of Becoming, which has been adapted for younger readers and has a new introduction.

Topics/themes: American politics, civil rights, family

The Boy with the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera

Journalist Sanghera’s first book is about trying to reconcile the past he remembers from growing up in Wolverhampton with a discovery that his family has been keeping a huge secret. When he was 24, Sanghera found out his father and sister were both suffering from a severe mental illness he didn't know about.

The revelation prompted Sanghera to embark on a journey into the past to try and find out more about how the secret came to be. The Boy with the Topknot is a portrait of a family dealing with mental ill health, and is filled with love and humour.

Sanghera’s memoir was adapted for a BBC series in 2017, starring Sacha Dhawan in the lead role.

Topics/themes: Family, mental health, love

Books by other publishers

Chinglish by Sue Cheung

Growing up in the 1980s, Jo Kwan is a teenager trying to deal with an annoying little sister, a toocool older brother, a series of very unlucky pets and utterly bonkers parents, who own a Chinese takeaway the family lives above. And she’s doing it all while trying to navigate a new school and posh cousins, and nurture her dreams of becoming an artist.

Chinglish is told through diary entries and doodles. It is a novel about fitting in and standing out, and an honest portrayal of life on the other side of the takeaway counter.

Cheung was born in the Midlands and won a scholarship to the London College of Fashion. She worked in fashion and then began writing and illustrating children’s books, before writing Chinglish.

Chinglish was named one of the best books of 2019 by the Guardian and won the young adult category at the Diverse Book Awards.

Themes/topics: Identity, Immigration, Bullying, Language

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Published by Rock the Boat

Iron Widow combines science fiction with East Asian mythology, and is a retelling of the rise of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese

In Huaxia, boys dream of the celebrity status that comes with piloting Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that battle the aliens beyond the Great Wall. Their female co-pilots are expected to serve as concubines and sacrifice their lives.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s so she can be in a position to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her
sister’s death. But on miraculously emerging from the cockpit unscathed after her first battle, she is declared an Iron Widow, the most feared pilot of all, and her sights are set instead on stopping more girls from being sacrificed.

Xiran Jay Zhao is a first-generation immigrant to Canada from small-town China. Iron Widow is their first novel.

Themes/topics: Patriarchy, Feminism

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Publisher: Andersen Press

Alexander’s Crossover series takes place in the world of sport, with different characters introduced in each book The Crossover is about twins Josh and Jordan, who are star players on their school’s basketball team. Their father was a champion player, and all they want is to follow in his footsteps, but on and off the court there’s conflict and hardship that will test Josh’s bond with his brother.

Booked follows Nick, a football fan who hates books. Nick has to figure out how to navigate his parents’ break-up, stand up to bullies, and impress the girl of his dreams. Succeeding will change not just his life, but that of his best friend too.

In Rebound, Charlie is mourning his father and trying to work out how he feels about his best friend. When he gets into trouble one too many times, he’s sent to stay with his grandparents for the summer. There, his cousin introduces him to basketball, and Charlie is enamoured with the court. But he has to learn to resist when trouble comes knocking once again. 

Alexander won the Newbery Medal for The Crossover.

Topics/themes: Sport, bullying, death, grief

Cover of Becoming Muhammad Ali

Becoming Muhammad Ali by Kwame Alexander and James Patterson, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

Published by Jacaranda

This biographical novel of cultural icon Muhammad Ali is written by prize-winning writers Alexander and Patterson. The pair have told the story of the boxer, who was born Cassius Clay, up to the age of 17 in a mix of poetry and prose. Readers will learn about his family and struggles at school, and how, after a thief stole his bike Cassius began training as an amateur boxer aged 12.

Becoming Muhammad Ali is authorised by and written in cooperation with the later sportsman’s estate.

Kirkus Reviews said of the book: “A stellar collaboration that introduces an important and intriguing individual to today's readers."

Topics/themes: Coming-of-age

Cover of Rose, Interrupted

Rose, Interrupted by Patrice Lawrence

Published by Hodder Children's Books

Rose, Interrupted is Lawrence’s third novel, and follows a family who has escaped from a strict religious sect.

In their new life, 13-year-old Rudder is embracing everything from Harry Potter to Simon and Garfunkel, while Rose has swapped her ankle skirts and uncut hair for Japanese-cute fairy dresses and her new boyfriend Kye.

But Rose and Rudder aren’t equipped to handle everything this strange world is throwing at them, and when Rudder accidentally sets a devastating chain of events into action, Rose must decide whether to sacrifice everything and go back to the life she hates, in order to save the people she loves.

Topics/themes: Revenge porn, identity, family

Cover of The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling

Published by Allen & Unwin

Anna Chiu spends her days looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, while her mum stays in bed. So her dad’s new delivery boy Rory is a welcome distraction, making her feel like a “normal” teenager even when she knows things aren't right at home.

When Anna’s mum finally gets out of bed, her condition worsens, leaving Anna and her family questioning everything they know about each other.

Topics/themes: Mental health, family, romance

Cover of A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe and Leo Nickolls

Published by Zephyr

Badoe’s novel is about the horrors of people-trafficking, told via a story that is steeped with African folklore.

The book is about Sante, who was washed ashore as a baby in a chest laden with treasure, the sole survivor of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Now 14, she is a member of Mama Rose’s unique and dazzling circus, but from their watery graves, the unquiet are calling for Sante to avenge them.

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award and nominated for the Carnegie Medal, both in 2018.

Topics/themes: Adoption, family, grief, death

4 book covers on a purple background: The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams, Tall Story, Girl Woman Other and Run Rebel

Download the 2021 book list for secondary schools here

Download the 2022 book list for secondary schools here

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