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  • Writer's pictureJhalak Prize

A. M. Dassu’s Five Favourite Books by Authors of Colour

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.

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 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!

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!

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!

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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