The Blurb On The Back:
”Home ain’t jus’ where you live. Home is your heart an’ yer history.”
The Place For Me – twelve moving tales of sacrifice and bravery, inspired by first-hand accounts of the Windrush generation. Each inspiring and authentic story helps to bring the real experience of Black British people into focus.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
The Black Cultural Archives is the UK’s only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the history of African and Caribbean people in Britain. This moving, thoughtful illustrated book for readers aged 9+ is a mix of short stories inspired by the Windrush generation of Caribbean people who came to help re-build Britain after World War II, combined with facts about some of those people and their accomplishments.
I’m going to start with an embarrassing admission: I had never heard of the Black Cultural Archives before I picked up this book. I think that just goes to show why it’s so important – not just for children but also for parents and carers who I think stand to learn about an important part of recent British history. Certainly when I was at school – cough cough years ago – we didn’t study anything about the immigration that came after World War II (not just from Africa and the Caribbean but also India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other former British colonies). We learned a little about the need to reconstruct and the way the 60s saw race relations legislation introduced in the UK for the first time and then the steps towards gender equality but it wasn’t until the Windrush scandal broke that there was much of a focus on it within the United Kingdom and certainly I have watched more documentaries about the experience of black people who came over.
Many adults and children will be familiar with the Windrush scandal from the news. This book (which is the first collaboration the Black Cultural Archives has entered into), uses it as a stepping stone to share stories of why the Windrush generation came to Britain, what they hoped for and were promised and what they actually experienced and combines short stories and short factual details to convey information. There’s a foreword by Dame Floella Benjamin, who I didn’t realise was part of the Windrush generation, who shares her experience of arriving in Britain in 1960 and how excited and hopeful she was when she arrived and how awful the welcome was.
The fact sections in the book are a mix of biography of people like Hubert ‘Baron’ Baker, who was a RAF policeman during World War II and stayed in Britain afterwards, helping people who came over to find a place to stay in a shelter at Clapham South and then helped people facing racist attacks in Notting Hill to protect themselves. They also talk about how people came to work in the NHS and the Bristol Bus Boycott and one thing I found particularly interesting was how a disastrous hurricane in 1944 had made people receptive to the idea of moving to Britain, even as they also saw it as helping the mother land.
There are also 12 short stories in the book, all of which draw on real accounts of people’s experiences. All of the stories are well written and moving and bring home the racism, hostility and real cruelty that many of these people encountered. However – and this is a really nitpick – the way they’ve been ordered in the book means that there is a certain ‘sameiness’ to the first few stories in terms of having characters on various islands in the Caribbean who hear about opportunities in Britain and decide to come over, only to find that people are unpleasant, jobs aren’t given to them but then they slowly make their way here. I know that sounds churlish and I am not saying it to diminish those experiences at all because we need to hear about them – it’s just unfortunate that by having it repeat so often there is a risk of readers skimming over it.
NOT MADE FROM AROUND HERE by Ashley Hickson-Lovence tells the story of Al, looking back of his time as a young man in Notting Hill in the late 1950s and an encounter with a racist Teddy boy gang. It’s a strong opening story with good characterisation that brings home the dangers faced by black people at the time.
A LETTER HOME by E. L. Norry is told as a letter from Gloria to her sister about how life in England has been treating her. The contrast between the friendliness of West Indian society compared with the more reserved British is moving, as is a really awful moment where she’s told not to return to a church because she’s black.
MOUNTAIN SIDE by Judy Hepburn is a moving tale of young Carl, who travels to Britain to be reunited with his mum who moved to Britain in search of a better life and the racism he faces when he goes to school.
ELIZA KING IS AT HOME by Katy Massey is one of my favourite stories in the book as Eliza King is an Ethiopian brought to Britain as a young girl by missionaries, who makes friends with Bashiir, a Somali who is finding life a lot tougher than he thought it would be.
DIARY OF A WINDRUSH KID by Jermain Jackson is structured as diary entries written by Baby G who is not happy to be told she is moving to Britain but who makes friends with a bi-racial British girl called Rebecca.
A NIGHT IN LONDON by Kirsty Latoya was a story that stayed with me a long time after I finished the book. Tyson and her mother travel to Britain to reunite with her father who moved to find work, who turn up at his address in London only to be told that he’s no longer there. They spend the night trying to find somewhere to stay, encountering the rudeness, racism and hostility that was sadly so common at that time. I think the reason it stayed with me is because a man who does help them is Irish (and the Irish suffered their own racism from British people at the time), who doesn’t want them to stay in case their presence upsets the other tenants.
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL by Kevin George follows Louvine who moved to Britain to become a nurse and is now looking back on her life and how she made a success of her career in Britain and raised a family.
HALE AND HEARTY by Salena Godden focuses on the way the British came to the Caribbean to recruit men and women, folding the youngest of 6 children who watches her older siblings sign up to go abroad.
MADE TO MEASURE by Quincy the Comedian was another of my favourite stories in the book about a young man who dreams of being a tailor and his experiences in a factory and if I’m being honest, part of the reason I liked it is because it’s one of the few stories where white people aren’t awful (and that’s not to deny that some white people were but it’s good to read of the exception).
THE WIND AND THE SNOW by E. L. Norry is set in the modern day with 12-year-old Jayston listening to his grandfather talk about his experiences on coming to Britain and comparing it with his own experiences of racism after his family moved to Poole.
GREEN ANGEL by Judy Hepburn is about a black man born and bred in Britain who meets a white Northern woman called Mary when he visits a clairvoyant while on holiday in Margate. This was another good story about making a life together and how he got into photography.
MAKING FRIENDS THE BRITISH WAY: LUCILLE’S STORY by Katy Massey follows Lucile who moved to Britain with her husband Earnest but has been finding it difficult to make friends until one night she finds the bath in the bedsit where they live is out of hot water and one of her neighbours comes to help her.
All in all, I thought this was a strong book – there are plenty of photographs and original illustrations, which help to bring it to life – and ultimately I thought it was very moving. I hope it helps people realise how much Britain owes to the black people who came over here and what a vital part they have played and continue to play in building British society and culture.
THE PLACE FOR ME was released in the United Kingdom on 3rd June 2021. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.