Reviews /

Happy Here

Authored by Introduced by Sharna Jackson
Illustrated by Various
Published by Knights Of

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Happy Here is a collection of ten works and illustrations by Black British creatives and, as such, is a prolific tome. The book is to be distributed to all primary schools during this academic year and is a collaboration between the inclusive publisher Knights of and literacy charities CLPE and Book Trust.

During my own school days, book corners and libraries contained stories about blonde, blue-eyed kids who lived idyllic middle-class family lives and children of my background would struggle to identify with the characters.  Moreover, none of these stories would be the mirrors, windows and sliding doors (Rudine Sims Bishop) that children of colour would need to read to open up their imaginations; meaning that generations would fail to see reading as the pleasurable pastime that it should be. In later years, although more representative literature about Black families has appeared, it usually depicts crime-ridden, dysfunctional lifestyles.

What makes Happy Here different, is that each work is joyful and provides happy endings. More than that, each narrative invents relatable characters that fall out with their friends, go on family holidays, solve pretend crimes or struggle with their sexualities.  The thing that is so extraordinary about this book is that it writes about ordinary life and its readers will begin to see themselves appear within the books available to them.

The illustrations are my favourite part of the book as they show what the characters look like. My personal favourites are Dean Atta’s poem ‘Asha is a rockstar and ‘A House Like No Other ‘ by Alexandra Shepperd as they describe the cultural and physical identities of their protagonist’s in great detail.

Each tale is brilliant but sometimes, there is no reference to the character being black other than in the illustrations. I wonder whether this was done to appeal to a mainstream audience, or did the authors perhaps not feel it necessary to refer to identity in detail.  Am I adopting a white privileged viewpoint or is the book perhaps not as visibly diverse as it could be? Nevertheless, it will appeal to many children who had not previously been seen between book covers.

The book will appeal to readers from 7 years old upwards and I would like to see schools including it in book displays, using it in reading lessons and getting pupils to produce work as a result of enjoying it. Happy Here is a great book for bedtime stories as well as a building block for literacy activities within the classroom.