Coming to England by Floella Benjamin & Diane Ewen

Coming to England is ‘The true story of Dame Floella Benjamin’ who moved to England from Trinidad when she was a child. I have vivid memories of watching Floella on Play School when I was younger and it’s fascinating to read her ‘…inspiring true story celebrating the Windrush generation’.

The Story: When Floella’s Dardie saw a newspaper advert he packed his suitcase and his saxophone and travelled to England. At school Floella learnt about The British Empire and dreamt of meeting The Queen. A year later Floella’s mother joined her father and took two of her siblings. Finally ten year old Floella and her brothers and sisters could make the boat trip and be reunited with their parents.

Living in England wasn’t how Floella had imagined it to be, the family didn’t have a big house and her new classmates had never seen children with Floella’s skin colour before. But gradually the family settled and one day Floella’s childhood dream came true!

Floella’s story starts in Trinidad where she lived in a happy house with her large family, went to school and to the market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. The seasons came and went as they thought of Dardie in England then waited for Marmie to send for them. 

London was cold and unwelcoming after the warmth and vibrancy of The Caribbean and, although the family were together, Floella talks about how the reality of arriving wasn’t as nice as she thought.

This candid autobiography is told through simple language and Diane Ewen’s amazing illustrations. Floella talks about how she felt at each stage of the transition to England and the hopes and dreams that she brought with her. Her story is positive, optimistic and the family’s love and support for each other shines through. But while Floella doesn’t dwell too much on the difficulties they had when they moved in England she does acknowledge how unwelcome her family felt in some situations and the negative attitudes of some of the people that they met.

The illustrations are colourful and vibrant, exactly how I remember Floella when I watched her on children’s television. We love the pictures of the children making mischief on the boat and the family pillow fight, they both exude love and togetherness. It’s also fabulous to see the picture of Southampton’s Royal Pier on the cover (now one of our favourite Indian restaurants!).

The glimpse into Caribbean life is fascinating, particularly the changes in seasons and the daily trip to the market. We didn’t know what breadfruit was so we looked it up…

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry and jackfruit family. Its name is derived from the texture of the moderately ripe fruit when cooked, similar to freshly baked bread and having a potato-like flavor.

Living in cold rainy England must have been so different for Floella but one day her childhood dream came true…

It’s fascinating to read Floella’s story, hers was just one of the families that responded to a newspaper advert inviting them to England. The story led us to read more about the Windrush generation and provides a great stimulus for talking about a significant period in UK post war history.

Age Range: 3 +

Author: Floella Benjamin / Illustrator: Diane Ewen

Thank you to Macmillan for sending a copy of Coming to England. It’s an absolutely fascinating story!

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