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As the weather cools off, award-winning children’s author A. M. Dassu picks some of her favourite Children’s and Young Adult reads by authors of colour, showcasing authors of Syrian, Sri Lankan, Southeast Asian, Italian-Trinidadian and Caribbean heritage.


She is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere and her highly anticipated novel Fight Back has just been published.


Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan

I love this beautifully illustrated picture book. It features little Yazan, who can no longer go out due to the war in Syria.

I read it with my daughter and was drawn in by the pictures that go from gloomy to bright... just like Yazan does as his parents help him cope with the huge changes in his life.


Even though the story is about the war in Syria, it can also relate to what’s happening right now around the world... it not only shows how children must feel in Syria or countries like Ukraine that aren’t safe due to war anymore, but it also speaks to children globally who lived through the pandemic and couldn’t go out as they once used to – when parks were closed and children couldn’t play with friends anymore.


Nadine shows how the war not only affects Yazan, but also his mum who no longer paints but just watches the news (something that all creators began doing at the beginning of the pandemic, we couldn’t read, write or draw and were consumed by the news). I LOVE the endpapers, colours and illustrations — you’re captivated from the very first page. It’s a wonderful read and I would recommend it to be shared in schools to encourage discussion about how life can change, how to adapt to change and also to build empathy for children in Syria, Ukraine and other war-torn countries.


When you read it, you’ll see why it’s a USSBY Outstanding International Book!


The Boy Who Met a Whale by Nizrana Farook

The brilliant follow-up to the Jhalak Prize longlisted title The Girl Who Stole an Elephant .

This is a page-turning adventure, packed with constant danger following Razi, Zheng and Shifa wherever they go in fictional Serendib. I loved all three characters, each distinct and instantly likeable – they made a fab team and of course the wonderful blue whale too! I was with them the whole way, cheering them on to the very satisfying ending. This book is the perfect escape to a warm and lush climate and I am delighted that we get two more books in the same fictional world from Nizrana. In factI wish I was on that gorgeous beach in Serendib right now!


Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai


This wonderfully illustrated middle grade novel is about a Chinese family that migrates to Australia after the father dies, and their struggles to settle into their new country. Eleven-year-old Jingwen sees himself as an alien when he can’t communicate with his teacher or school friends in English. The story shows him slowly overcoming his fears and grief, and embracing the move just as his little brother and mother have done.


It’s a charming story in which food and cooking is used as both comfort and a coping mechanism. I think if there was one book I wish I’d written, it’d be this. Remy Lai has written about serious, life-changing events in a humorous and light manner. I’m glad I read it after I wrote Boy, Everywhere, otherwise I might never have written it!


Splinters of Sunshine by Patrice Lawrence

I’m in absolute awe having read this one. Patrice has not only done it again, she’s smashed it. I think this is my favourite novel out of her five and I didn’t think that could be possible! Patrice’s books continue to grip me and rise! My heart was in bits because of the themes of abuse and manipulation, but it also had me laughing throughout because it is so brilliantly written, and the protagonist Spey is just adorable. Told from the perspectives of Spey and Dee, it’s a dual narrative that seamlessly intertwines and comes together. Patrice masterfully tells a well-paced story with incredible attention to detail. I didn’t ever think I’d be interested in wild flowers, but I was, and the more I read, I saw how important they were and how they can also relate to life if you can only see how.


I loved how Patrice challenges stereotypes of Black people. We’ve often talked about representation and how we are not a monolith, and this book shows how diverse Black communities are. Spey is an A-grade student, his dad has been in and out of prisons his whole life, and he wants his son to do well and not take the path he has. Spey is fair-skinned but his nose and hair are different to that of his white mother. He isn’t white enough and he isn’t Black enough, yet he has to be aware of the trouble that can come his way at any moment because he isn’t white.


It’s heartfelt, stunningly written with a brilliant cast of diverse characters that explore racism, identity, belonging, absent fathers, prisons, abuse, neglect and manipulation by gangs. I couldn’t have loved it more! WHAT A BOOK! Seriously if there’s one mystery you read this year, make it this one!


Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

How can I list my favourite books by authors of colour and not mention the one and only Malorie Blackman? I read this years ago of course and we’ve now been treated to seeing it brought to life on screen too. Malorie depicts segregation and how marginalised people are forced to fight for a better future brilliantly. I have to admit it took me a while to visualise the switched roles in society when reading it and even when watching the series on TV – imagine having all that power as a person of colour! Even though this was first written in 2001, the issues are all sadly still relevant today. An absolutely marvellous, thought-provoking and inspiring read!




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Elias Jahshan, the editor of the extraordinary new anthology, This Arab Is Queer (Saqi Books) picks some of his favourite books for Pride Month 2022.


The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu


I absolutely adored this book. The prose is a joy to read, and coupled with fab dialogue and wonderful characters (including queer characters), the coming-of-age story of Nnenna Maloney was hard to put down. Most importantly though, themes of generational clashes, class, gender, sexuality, and race and skin colour are explored deftly and with nuance. Okechukwu Nzelu is a promising, talented writer and I can't wait to read his latest book, Here Again Now.

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine


I had known about Rabih Alameddine for so long since his seminal work Koolaids: The Art of War is regarded as a trailblazer of sorts for queer Arab fiction. But it was this novel that introduced me to him and made me a lifelong fan. An allegory of death and loss; sex and religion; war; acceptance and stigma; art and love; politics and AIDS; and the need to remember – The Angel of History is simply as wonderful as it is moving.

Love is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar


This is a powerful, compelling travelogue memoir interspersed with anecdotes and essays that delve into sexuality and body image, religion and culture, childhood and family, and forgiveness and reconciliation. Honest and unflinching, Love Is an Ex-Country highlights the power and love we can derive from fighting for ourselves and living unapologetically - even if it takes a journey of complex, nuanced experiences to reach that stage

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong


This is one of the most beautifully written novels I have ever read. The exploration of family history, the Vietnam, war and the trauma and displacement that comes with it, masculinity and sexuality, immigration and the matriarchy, all against a backdrop of working class America. It all comes together so beautifully. Ocean Vuong's prose is poetic and emotive, and truly, a pleasure to read.


You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat


You Exist Too Much follows an unnamed bisexual Palestinian-American woman, as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery while caught between two worlds. Arafat's writing is honest and she doesn't shy away from themes around mental health, sex, family, and the fragmented sense of home that comes with being part of the Palestinian diaspora. The narrator's cultural background and sexuality are also just able to be, without the white gaze interfering.

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Sabba Khan, winner of Jhalak Prize 2022 for her graphic novel The Roles We Play (Myriad Press) recommends five books that have influenced her life and work.



To Dig A Hole That Collapses Again by Otobong Nkanga

This book is essentially an exhibition catalogue for Nkanga’s exhibition in 2018 in Chicago and yet it is so much more. We have paintings, photos of the exhibition, photos of Nkanga’s performances, colour studies, sketches, roughs, all interspersed with poems from Omar Kholeif and short essays from Teju Cole,and all in dialogue with each other. Together they speak of the twisted relationship between the Western world and Africa, of exploitation, of violence. We move from economics, to geopolitics to ruptured bodies so fluidly. This book transcends the time it was made for, and moves beyond simply being an exhibition catalogue. It has become a practice manifesto for an incredible multi-disciplinary artist of our living times.


The Will to Change by Bell Hooks

The Will To Change was a book that my partner’s best friend accidentally left in our house. I recall taking a picture of it and asking him if he wanted me to post it to his newly relocated home in Berlin, he told me I could keep it and read it myself. Up until then I had not known of bell Hooks, and this was my gentle way of falling into her world and her words. She has hugely inspired me since, and I feel wholly changed and loved by her words. I think if it wasn’t for this particular book, I would still struggle with my relationship with some of the men in my family, and I’d struggle to see the beauty of multi-generational family living. I owe her a lot.



Salt by Nayyirah Waheed

I tell myself Waheed came about before the profligate use of pared back social media friendly poetry. So she’ll always be a true trailblazer in my heart. There is one poem in her collection that takes me to the bottom of the deepest ocean only to rise to the highest tip in an instant. I recall it regularly:


“islam. is still in my life.

we are old soulmates.

who could not work out the knots against skin.

who could not believe in each other. while believing in ourselves.

who could not make each other happy. without.

making each other a sadness.

who

were born to each other. and never fell in love.

but

we still sip tea.

share our hands.

touch hearts.

every now and then.”


Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob is a journalist and writer who illustrates her complex conversations with her son in a pared back visual language. Photographic backdrops superimposed with character portraits that are mostly repeated across the book make space for the dialogue, the scenarios, the conversations; sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious. Mira Jacob showed me you can lay your heart out in the table and yet be big picture enough to be critically reflective; you can both be personal from your starting point but end up with astute social commentary that zooms out and moves beyond your own experiences.


My Past is a Foreign Country by ZebaTalkhani

Two years before I was set to publish my own book I met ZebaTalkhani who gave me a proof copy of her book My Past is a foreign Country. This was the biggest gift for me at the time: here was a Muslim author in London writing about her personal experiences in an open and honest way. She showed me it is possible, you can be true to your own experiences whilst honouring where you have come from and the struggles you have faced. Her book is tender and delicate yet quietly strong and courageous. I come back to it regularly.

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