Story of Now: Let’s Talk About the British Empire

Shelina Janmohamed, illustrated by Laura Greenan

  • Explains history of the British Empire
  • Discusses identity
  • Promotes storytelling

This is history as you have not read it before! Shelina Janmohamed has written a brilliantly thought-provoking book looking at the history of the British Empire. The biggest empire ever in history, bigger even than those of the Romans, Egyptians, Incas, Mayans, Ottomans and Mongols. She tackles some of the hottest topics and issues of today through the lens of the Empire. How has the Empire influenced our lives today in Britain? And what about those people living in the countries and communities worldwide that were once part of the Empire and made a huge contribution, often unacknowledged, to its power and wealth?

By telling the individual stories of children, families, slaves and other real people, Janmohamed shows how their experiences have influenced and shaped modern Britain. The author has a natural aptitude for getting to grips with difficult topics such as the exploitation of workers, the experiences of slave owners and the enslaved, migration, inequality, colonialism and racism. Her storytelling is fascinating and original, sometimes amusing and often heartbreaking. Who knew that wealthy Georgians used to rent a pineapple (worth a staggering £6000 in today’s money) to impress their dinner guests? What about the 3 million and more enslaved people traded and exploited across the Empire over a period of 350 years? Or the 150,000 children sent from Britain to different corners of the Empire between 1860 and the 1950s allegedly to improve their lives and stop Britain’s streets being overrun by “waifs, strays and orphans”?

The final section of the book asks what it means to be British, and invites young readers to investigate and write the stories behind their own family and local community.

The book’s language is powerful and engaging, and Janmohamed writes with wit and humour. Her explanations are clear and well presented, and bold type is used to highlight key words and phrases. The text is double-spaced for ease of reading and includes helpful subheadings, boxed Spotlight features and a really useful glossary of difficult terms. Some thought-provoking black-and-white photos are bound to lead to interesting and perhaps challenging discussions, whether at home or in the classroom.

Story of Now was also chosen by LoveReading4Kids as their book of the month in November 2023. It’s a book that justifiably deserves a place in every home, classroom and school library.

Published by Welbeck Publishing, 2023 (256 pages)

Reviewed by Jane Walker