NNFN: Biographies and Diaries – a guest post by Gaby Morgan, Editorial Director 6+, Macmillan Children’s Books
“At the start of his Weird World of Wonders books, Sir Tony Robinson says, ‘How do you know who you are if you don’t know where you came from?’ Non-fiction texts, especially biographies and diaries, tell us where we came from.
History is a vast and complicated business, and many of the events, regimes and ways of treating other human beings are almost impossible to absorb and get your head round. The wonder of biographies and diaries is that a single person walks you through a period of time and gives you a glimpse into their personal experience. It is easy to lose touch with individuals when looking at something as incomprehensible as the Holocaust, but Anne Frank’s diary reminds us that she was just a girl – a fantastically spirited, hopeful teenager at that – making the best of the situation she found herself in. She reminds us of the individual humanity of each and every soul involved.
Narrative non-fiction in the form of diaries surrounds us with historical context and fills in the details through the use of one person’s experience. By following a Victorian housemaid, an Elizabethan actor or a suffragette we learn all about their lives, how hard they worked, what they ate, what they could expect from life, what they looked forward to and where they fitted into the world. It helps brings history to life, showing us how we – or they – came to be, and what and where we are now.
In her introduction to Coming to England, Floella Benjamin says, ‘I always say that childhood lasts a lifetime, so I wrote this book twenty years ago through the eyes of a child, to give people, both black and white, an insight into the circumstances that brought a whole generation of West Indians to Britain, and the struggles they experienced. I tried, through my own journey, to share what many of them had to go through in order to make the difficult and sometimes painful transition to a new life in the fabled motherland, the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.‘
After the Second World War, Britain’s workforce was left badly depleted, so the government encouraged people to come from other Commonwealth countries to fill the gaps in the labour market.
When these new arrivals walked down the gangplank, taking their first steps towards what they hoped would be a brighter future, they could not have imagined that their journey was the start of a wave of mass immigration that would change the social landscape of Britain. The Windrush Generation played a significant role in shaping modern Britain. Their contribution to the workforce helped to make Britain one of the most successful post-war economies in Europe. But the reception these people received was not warm or welcoming, and they faced enormous difficulties in settling into their new homes in Britain.
Today this important book reaches far beyond Floella’s own story and is a book for anyone who feels different and is trying to find their place in the world. The empathy for others that radiates from her words is powerfully relevant at a time of such massive population displacement the world over. Floella’s story reflects the experience of children from many countries who arrive here with or without their families; who struggle to re-establish themselves and rebuild their family lives. When Floella is speaking in schools and at conferences, she is constantly approached by people who recognize their own experience within her story and want to share it with her. Coming to England is an inspirational story and a powerful example of how courage and determination can help overcome prejudice. It reminds us how strongly our identities are tethered to our sense of place and how confusing making your home elsewhere can be, whatever the circumstances.”
Today’s guest post was written by Gaby Morgan, Editorial Director 6+, Macmillan Children’s Books. Our thanks go to Gaby for her thoughtful piece.
To find out more about Coming to England, and to download teachers’ resources based on the book, please visit: