History KS2: Christina Shingler - Becoming an author of children's literature

In this short film Felix, aged 10, talks to his grandmother Christina (Tina) Shingler, a writer who decided to do something about the lack of black characters in British literature.

Felix interviews Tina to find out what life was like growing up as one of the only two black children at her school in Ripon, North Yorkshire.

Tina was often teased and her ‘frizzy’ hair in particular, became a target. To deal with this, Christina lost herself in books and spent much of her time at Ripon library.

She always dreamed about was being a princess but she never found any princesses in books that looked like her. They all had “silky smooth, grade-A blonde, princess hair”; this was something that Christina could not identify with.

In 2004 Tina decided to do something about the imbalance of black characters in British literature and she wrote Princess Katrina and the Hair Charmer.

This short film is from the BBC Teach series, Black British Stories.

Teacher Notes

Before watching the film

You may want to discuss favourite authors and books with the class before watching the film. As a class/group, a list could be created of favourite books. These can then be split into books that are by white authors and authors of a different ethnicity. Pupils could also investigate how many of these books feature a white main character and how many feature a main character who is non-white.

You may want to go into details of when the first children’s books appeared in Britain and the fact that Britain was still actively involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Explore how this would impact on who were writing the books and the main characters featured. Following World War Two, many people who had lived in British colonies came to Britain to find education and work. They found that the majority of books ignored people of colour so people began writing books that addressed this inbalance.

Please note, in the film Tina says that she was one of only two black children in her class and that this left her feeling isolated. As part of your preparation you should consider the needs of any pupils in your class who may have similar lived experiences. Tina also talks about being raised by white foster parents. Again, pupils may have similar lived experiences, and discussions around interracial families or foster parents might be uncomfortable or upsetting for them. Individuals in the class should not feel any expectation to discuss their own family circumstances, although they may choose to.

Questions to consider

Depending on the focus of your lesson, you may wish to pause the short film at certain points to check for understanding, asking questions such as:

  • What do you think were the challenges Tina faced, being one of the only two black children in the local community?
  • Why do you think Tina did not like people staring at her hair? How do you think it made her feel? Please note, in the film Tina talks about hair discrimination and how this made her feel. This subject should be treated with sensitivity. Does your school have a policy on hair discrimination? This Newsround video provides further insight.
  • Why do you think Tina spent so much time at Ripon library? What could the library offer her, that she was not getting elsewhere?
  • Why do you think Tina struggled to identify with the princesses in books that she read?
  • What would have helped Tina identify more with the characters in the books she was reading?
  • How many children’s books can you think of that feature a person from a diverse ethnic group as a main character?
  • Why do you think it is important to see people who look like you in books you read?

Activities to further explore learning

  • Exploring inclusive literature Pupils can research further the books in their classroom. How many are by black authors and how many feature black children as the main character? Is there still an imbalance in the literature children are exposed to today? Pupils could then write letters to publishing companies to encourage them to publish more books feature a diverse selection of main characters.

  • Creating diverse characters Pupils choose a book they love. Challenge them to change the characters to make the book appeal to a more diverse audience. What would help different ethnic groups identify with the characters?

  • Expanding their reading Introduce pupils to some black authors who are more recent. Challenge pupils to read a book by one of these new authors and then write a book review encouraging other pupils to read the same. Authors that they may want to consider:

    • Zanib Mian
    • Sita Brahmachari
    • Catherine Johnson
    • Polly Ho Yen
    • Jasmine Richards
    • Benjamn Zephaniah
    • Malorie Blackman
    • Verna Wilkins
    • Onjali Q. Rauf
  • Biographies You could also read the Verna Wilkins Black Star Series biographies. Focus on Benjamin Zephaniah and Malorie Blackman. Explore why it is important to hear their stories. Following this you could challenge the class to write a biography for Christina Shingler.

Key Vocabulary

  • Culture - A pattern of behaviour shared by a society, or group of people.
  • Discrimination - The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people.
  • Diversity - Differences in racial and ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic and academic backgrounds.
  • Equality - When people are treated the same, regardless of what they look like or where they come from.
  • Inclusion - Being a part of what everyone else is, being welcomed and embraced as a member who belongs.
  • Legacy - Something we inherit from past generations and pass to our future generations.
  • Prejudice - A preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
  • Racism - The belief that people of different races or ethnic groups have different value in society, and using this against them.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching KS2 / 2nd level pupils and links to various areas of the curriculum including history (black history) and personal, social and relationships education (diversity and identity). The focus on children’s literature also enables a discussion around books available and expanding pupils’ experiences of different authors

This short film raises questions about how people form their identity and the importance of seeing people in books that they can be related to.

This short film raises questions about whether UK literature is diverse and whether or not it reflects current British society. In 2017, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Schools (CLPE) undertook a survey of ethnic representation with UK children’s literature. Out of the 9115 children’s books that were publishes during 2017, only 4% featured BAME characters and only 1% featured a BAME main character.

More from Black British Stories

Mac Williams - Working in the coal mining industry
Alison Bennison - Working as a NHS nurse
David Mwanaka - Becoming a farmer in Britain
Dennis Morris - Becoming a photographer
Elsie Owusu - Becoming an architect in Britain
Eunice Olumide - Breaking into the fashion business
Magid Magid - Becoming the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Sheffield
Vernon Samuels - The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963
Yesha Townsend - A Bermudian poet in London