Coming To England
By Floella Benjamin
Illustrated by Joelle Avelino
Review written by Louise (Lou) @Lou_Bookmarks
Floella Benjamin, I am sure a lot of people will have heard of her. I certainly remember her in Playschool, probably nearer the end of that series. Hers is perhaps the main name I remember as she captivated my childlike imagination. Now she is made a Dame and has been in parliament and done more good, so to have the opportunity to review her book is just astounding and a big honour! This isn’t just an exciting book, because I’m picky about contents of books, no matter who is writing it), and this is one excellent book that is informative and has a lot of colour and life to it that makes it absolutely fascinating to read about travelling between Trinidad and England.
Coming to England is great for Middle-Grade readers and is being re-released. She first wrote it over 20 years ago and then it was published again in 2016 and now on 15th April, it is ready for this new generation of children to enjoy and is a very special 25th Anniversary Edition you can buy now.
It’s perfect for bookcases everywhere and in classrooms. Teachers and children’s group leaders could easily find creative ways of using this book, there’s so much scope to be inspired from it to teach children of Trinidad through the memoir, the carnival, the food. There’s also a lot of discussion about different topics that come through in the book too. It is as relevant then as it is for today’s generation. Coming To England is Timeless!
As I write this and my full review, I find my fingers flying across the keyboard in excitement in what I found within the book, which is a memoir that is incredibly well-written for children and is as relevant today as it was in yesteryear.
Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books/Pan Macmillan for gifting me Coming To England.
Find out more about this special 25th Anniversary Edition of Coming To England in the blurb and my full review and buy links.
This 25th anniversary edition of Floella Benjamin’s classic memoir, Coming to England, includes a foreword by the author and some additional historical information. It is beautifully illustrated by Michael Frith.
Floella Benjamin was just a young girl when she, her sister and two brothers arrived in England in 1960 to join their parents, whom they had not seen for fifteen months. They had left the island paradise of Trinidad to make a new home in London – part of a whole generation of West Indians who were encouraged to move to Britain and help rebuild the country after the Second World War.
Reunited with her mother, Floella was too overwhelmed at first to care about the cold weather and the noise and dirt from the traffic. But, as her new life began, she was shocked and distressed by the rejection she experienced. She soon realized that the only way to survive was to work twice as hard and be twice as good as anyone else.
This inspirational story is a powerful reminder that courage and determination can overcome adversity.
With a brilliantly coherent foreward, that is a Must Read, (I say because I know that some people skip over these parts and miss a great deal), it gives an insight for what’s to come, with some of the history and circumstances laid out. The entire book is hugely interesting and many children will be able to relate to so many aspects themselves or learn so much from it and will (hopefully) see that moving can be challenging, especially to a different country and what can be faced and also how challenges can be overcome. They will also (hopefully) learn that humans, whatever their race etc don’t need to be mean to each other (putting it politely) and learn tolerance and also learn something about the Windrush Generation. It is a book that may inspire and is written in such a way that children will be able to get into easily and understand immediately and may prompt curiosity and questions and thoughts. Floella Benjamin, with her new foreward proves she’s still got it when it comes to children and young people, to reach out to them and their level.
Readers get to know a little of Dame Floella Benjamin’s brothers and sister – Ellington, Sandra and Lester whose mother they call Marmie, in affectionate terms, who met Dardie aged 19, all of which I think is just lovely. The memoir starts with Life in Trinidad and it feels quite uplifiting in some ways and warm. There is much enjoyment for children to get their teeth into and so much knowledge to be gained about food and other parts of the culture. No matter where you’re from, whatever your culture, it shows that some things are the same the world over, such as baking. This is one of the beauties of this book, it starts off showing that there are similarities in life, after all, who doesn’t at the very least, like cake or ice cream? It has such a positive feel to it for children to read about that is heartwarming as it will make it easy then for children to warm to it. Then there’s school life, so some of this will be familiar to children too, although there are some changes, but this is where it’s interesting for children, and it was for me growing up too, as I grew up without the fear of the belt, whipping down on me, but in the 60’s, 70’s this seemed more like the norm.
There is the fun and spectacle at the carnival and there are some great illustrations of this, as there are throughout the book. Between that and church life, children will be able to see the British (and other countries) influences.
The reasons of creativity as to why people were moving out of Trinidad to England are fascinating and England seemed perfect for creating styles of music, such as Jazz etc that weren’t so popular in Trinidad. The memoir takes readers on a real journey of life and even to the crossing of the sea, which is great, I was glad this wasn’t missed out as it seems so pivitol and adds more to the story, instead of just landing in England without this part and I think children will be able to also feel the excitement (as I do, thinking of this book as a child might), for the family to make it across the sea safely. The atmosphere really comes through and carries the story across those waves and onto the train when the ship meets the land. The book is truthful and shows those natural anxieties during the trip.
There’s a stark turning point of the book when the family reaches England, with the changes in colour and increased traffic and the way people behaved towards them, which is far from pleasant and children will either be able to relate to or sympathise with and recognise this, it also shows resilience and how people lived in certain areas and what was endured. The book however, has another turning point that will give hope and brightness and also enters the family’s grown-up lives so readers can read about what happened next. There is also a bit about The Windrush Generation in general which children can learn much from in just a few pages. So, yes, unfortunately due to the world views at the time etc, she, like lots of others within the Windrush generation had to work twice as hard, but it is not all as harshly written as that sit-up and take notice blurb, it does have some lightness, It is detailed but refrains from overly complicating things. It’s a book for today’s generation and generations to come with its timeless themes and it is properly interesting and is a surprising page-turner, not least because who doesn’t care about Dame Floella Benjamin? But you care about her, her family and the whole windrush generation and hopefully everyone will see everyone as just being human and bring some humanity, no matter how small it is and just some peace and live and work together and see differences, but also similarities and find ways to not segregate or anything like that. This book could provide some hope for the future as adults may well read this with their children too, no matter where they come from, what their race is. It is relevant for everyone. It is about one family but is further-reaching than that…