I’ve been meaning to write about Coming to England for ages, but the BBC showing again a film adaptation of it recently (currently still available on iPlayer here – but not for ever!) has prompted me into action.
When I first spotted Coming to England on the shelves in a local bookshop I was initially drawn in because I’m such a huge fam of Floella Benjamin. As a child of the 80s she was one of the main faces of Children’s television, and ever since then she’s just been one of those constant people. A voice of comfort and common sense.
With the responses across the world to the killing of George Floyd, her story of coming to England as a child of the Windrush generation takes on additional significance in educating all of us.
Floella was born in Trinidad and started her childhood there with her brothers and sisters and parents. that happy settled childhood was not to continue though. Her father soon started talking about going to England. A country she had learnt so much about at school. A country that so many West Indians were encouraged to move to to help rebuild the country after the Second World War.
Initially Floella’s father travelled over on his own, and then after nearly a year her mother went to join him. They did not have the money to take all six children with her, so four of the children stayed behind in Trinidad whilst the youngest two joined their mother on the voyage.
True to their promise Floella and her sister and two brothers were eventually brought over from Trinidad, but not after an uncomfortable period living with “relatives” who basically treated them as servants.
The two-week sea journey from the Caribbean to England was an experience in itself, but once they reached England the country, and their living condition were not as they expected. Nor were the attitudes of neighbours and other school children.
What is so clear in Coming to England, is Floella Benjamin’s amazing ability to talk to children. What she describes in heart-wrenching in parts, but she so expertly demonstrates what it was like to experience everything firsthand, as a child. The book somehow manages to combine being an important historical account, with also being an enjoyable read for a child.
Educational value of Coming to England
My (then) nine year old daughter read the book first and it enabled us to have some wonderful conversations about all the emotions that Floella would have experienced as a child, and how the reactions of other children made her feel. Having also read The Boy at the Back of the Class recently, it gave us a wonderful opportunity to compare the two books and the attitudes of some of the children in them, as well as that of the adults. To talk about where things had changed, and where things sadly hadn’t.
I hadn’t previously been aware of the film version of the book, but someone on Insta Stories happened to mention it last week and we all sat down to watch it together after school one day this week. It’s an excellent adaptation of the book, narrated by Floella herself, and for children who might not be ready for the book it’s an excellent way of getting the story over and initiating conversations about race with them.
Where to buy or watch Coming to England
Coming to England is available to buy online on Amazon *here or, if you prefer to shop independently via Hive here. If you are buying from Hive, I strongly recommend you sign up to *TopCashBack first as you can nearly always find cashback on there fore Hive.co.uk – at the time of writing a whopping 13.2% on books!
Coming to England the film version is currently on BBC iPlayer here.
Disclaimer: All links in this article marked * are affiliate or referral links. If you purchase something through them then I receive a small amount of commission, whilst it costs you no more than if you had arrived at the site on your own.