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Diversifying The Curriculum: Books Essential For GCSE English

New research commissioned by Penguin Random House has recently revealed the under-representation in the teaching of English Literature at GCSE level. With less than 1% of GCSE students in England studying a book by a writer of colour and only 7% study a book by a woman, the lack of diversity is appalling. Readers should see themselves reflected back in the books that they read. We have decided to recommend the books that we wish we read in school.


Amy Wright: Crudo by Olivia Laing


One book that I wish could be included in the school curriculum is Olivia Laing’s Crudo, an experimental novel first published in 2018. The most modern text I studied at GCSE was Of Mice and Men, and whilst it is important to learn the context behind a classic such as this, it would also be beneficial to study a text relevant to today’s world, with characters that encounter relatable issues. Crudo blurs the boundaries between fiction and memoir, exploring topics such as Brexit, global warming and Donald Trump. The story is told through the lens of a woman as she lives through the summer of 2017, a period we have all lived through ourselves. It is important that contemporary literature is studied as it sparks imperative and uncomfortable conversations needed to be had about issues that may be impacting us today.


Laura Jones: Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan


For there to be sustained improvement in diversity and representation in exam texts, first we must consider the path to GCSE and the opportunity younger pupils have to engage with texts of this type and view them as essential to their exploration of literature. With findings reported on tes.com showing that “poetry is the most common way for pupils to encounter BAME writers,” it is imperative that students are given more opportunity to explore a wide range of cultures and experiences through the vividity of more in-depth culturally-diverse stories such as Asha and the Spirit Bird, where ancestral history is woven into the canvas of the text. Asha and the Spirit Bird follows the story of a young girl, Asha, and her best friend, Jeevan, as they navigate the wild and dangerous Himalayan landscape to find Asha’s missing Papa. Not only a story of one girl’s bravery and courage, it is also an exploration of spirituality, belief and the question of whether our ancestors may live on beyond death, acting as our guardians in the time of need and having a profound impact on our lives. It is a heart-warming tale that is sure to inspire young minds and promote mindful curiosity.


Lucy Lillystone: I Am An Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler


One thing that was clear to me during my education in English Literature was the lack of books written by women, for women. Eve Ensler’s I Am An Emotional Creature is a selection of fictional monologues that celebrate the authentic voice inside every woman, empowering young girls to follow their dreams. Exploring characters such as an American who struggles with peer pressure in a suburban high school, an anorexic blogger as she eats less and less and a Maasai girl from Kenya unwilling to endure female genital mutilation. Ensler’s novel is a fierce and imaginative call for women to find their true selves, to stand up and to speak out. Covering relevant and timely topics such as sexual violence and female friendship, this is a book that had a big impact on me as a reader and should be required reading at GCSE level, helping young girls gain confidence and independence.


Sarah Lundy: I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Braithwaite


The overwhelming emotion I felt when I finished Candice Braithwaite’s I Am Not Your Baby Mother was: “This should be taught in schools.” More than this, I wish I had read it in school. Braithwaite ties in her experience as a Black woman in Britain with statistics that expose the scary situation for this demographic. It is incredible and powerful and gets to the heart of so many important issues in an accessible and informative manner. It is hugely important that more people are educated on these issues as early as possible to reduce the amount of racial ignorance that is so clearly rife in Britain.


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