Funky Chickens by Benjamin Zephaniah

Zephaniah is one of Birmingham’s most famous writers and poets, writing both adult and children’s books, and an actor (he played a role in the popular ITV series Peaky Blinders). Turkeys is Zephaniah’s first collection for children, and touches on heroes, revolutions, racism, love and animal rights.

Funky Chickens, published in 1997, two years after Talking Turkeys, addresses vegetables, the Queen, racism, and more.

Zephaniah is the only Rastafarian poet to be shortlisted for the Chairs of Poetry for both Oxford and Cambridge University and has been listed in The Times' list of 50 greatest postwar writers.

Topics/themes: Love, racism, humour

Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono and Joe Todd-Stanton

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.

The 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.

Topics/themes: Magic, friendship, adventure

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Gourlay’s 2010 novel Tall Story is the tale of separated siblings and the clash of two very different cultures. It follows Andi, who wishes she was 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, she’s excited about becoming someone's little sister, and hopes Bernardo loves basketball as much as she does, and that he’s tall. When he finally arrives, he’s not just tall, but a giant.

Gourlay’s novel is filled with humour and quirkiness, and is a story about a touching sibling relationship. Tall Story was listed for 13 prizes, including the Carnegie Medal, the Blue Peter Book Awards, and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

Topics/themes: Family, belonging

Little Badman series by Humza Arshad and Henry White

The Little Badman book series, written with comedy writer Henry White, follows 11-year-old Humza Khan, the greatest rapper the town of Eggington has ever known.

In the first book, Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties, something strange is happening at school: all the teachers are disappearing and being replaced by aunties. At first, the children don’t mind as the aunties keep feeding them delicious snacks, but it soon becomes clear something strange is going on.

Humza’s adventures continue in the World Book Day story Little Badman and the Radioactive Samosa, and in the full length novel Little Badman and the Time-Travelling Teacher of Doom.

Topics/themes: School-set story, humour, family

The Village by the Sea by Anita Desai

Desai is the author of a number of novels and short stories, and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times. Among her work is the children’s book The Village by the Sea.

In a small fishing villlage near Bombay, the book follows 13-year-old Lila and 12-year-old Hari, who are struggling to keep the family, including two young sisters, going when their mother is ill and their father usually the worse for drink. When Hari is forced to go to Bombay to find work, Lila seems to be responsible for everything.

The Village by the Sea is a look at poverty and child labour, and is a story about the strength of family.

Topics/themes: Poverty, child labour, addiction

Unheard Voices by Malorie Blackman

This anthology was published in 2007 to mark the bicentenary of the official abolition of slavery with an 1807 act by the British Parliament making the trading and transportation of slaves illegal. Although slavery still persisted for a number of years, the act was a big step forward in the emancipation of a people. Unheard Voices includes new short stories and poetry from writers including Blackman, Benjamin Zephaniah and James Berry, as well as first-hand accounts of slavery from freed slaves including Olaudah Equiano and Harriet Jacobs.

Topics/themes: Slavery, racism, British history

Books by other publishers

Cover of Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi

Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi by Nnedi Okorafor

Published by Cassava Republic

Sunny Nwazue, a 13-year-old and albino, is a little bit lost. She was born in New York and now lives in Nigeria, she’s good at football, and she can see into the future. In What Sunny Saw in the Flames, Sunny becomes part of a quartet with unique powers, and with her friends Orlu, Chichi and Sasha explores an exciting realm of strange creatures and dark secrets.

But when someone begins kidnapping children, and maiming or killing them, Sunny and her friends are asked to help track down the perpetrator. Sunny has to try and overcome her fears to overcome the killer, or risk the future she saw in the flames becoming reality.

In the sequel, Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi, Sunny is settled into life and her magic powers are continuing to grow as she studies her strange Nsidi book and begins to understand her spirit face, Anyanwu. But Sunny’s destiny is to travel to the shadowy town of Osisi, where awaiting her is a battle to determine the fate of humanity.

Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author of Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism books for children and adults, and has won some of the world’s most prestigious science fiction and fantasy awards.

Topics/themes: Mythology, adventure, family, belonging

Cover of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook

Published by Nosy Crow

This novel is about Chaya, a no-nonsense and outspoken hero who leads her friends and a beautiful elephant through a jungle where revolution is stirring. The gang has a plan to steal the queen’s jewels, but will it be the beginning or the end for them?

Girl Who Stole an Elephant is Farook’s debut novel, and was longlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2021. The Observer review of the book said it “positively rustles with the textures of rural Sri Lanka. It introduces an author keen to write a love letter to her culture, and upend preconceptions too".

Topics/themes: Family, adventure, mystery

Cover of Pie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

Published by Walker Books

Jingwen has moved to Australia, and it’s a bit like living on Mars. He hates school, and since he doesn’t speak English, making friends is impossible. And on top of that, he’s stuck looking after his little brother Yanghao. 

To distract himself from his loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. But his mother has a rule: no using the oven while she’s at work. So Jingwen and Yanghao must bake in secret, and come up with more elaborate excuses to continue the dream their father started. 

Themes/topics: Grief, family, belonging, migration 

Cover of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda and Joshua Khan

Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books

Ash Mistry hates India, but that’s where he is after his uncle takes up a dream job with the mysterious Lord Savage in Varanasi.

Ash immediately suspects there’s something very wrong with the eccentric millionaire, and soon uncovers a plot by Lord Savage to open the Iron Gates that have kept the demon king Ravana at bay for four millennia.

Topics/themes: Mythology, family

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