My friend Malaika Rose Stanley, who has died of cancer aged 65, was a pioneering children’s author, educator and activist. Ros, as she was known to her family, was forthright, funny and fierce, and she made an important contribution to children’s fiction at a time when there were few black female writers being published.
Her first book, Man Hunt, was published in 1996; Max is a mixed-race boy on a quest to find a man for his single mum. Told with humour and subtlety, it draws on Ros’s own experiences of motherhood and is laced with references to her local football team, Arsenal. At the same time it addresses serious themes and in particular celebrates a black child’s perspective on the world. Ros went on to establish herself as a popular and prolific author whose work ranged from picture books to pre-teen fiction.
The sequels following Max’s adventures, Operation X (1997) and Dad Alert (1999), were particularly popular, as was her series of “Spike” books, including Spike and Ali Enson (2010) and Spike in Space (2012). Dance Dreams (2013), about an aspiring ballerina, and Skin Deep (2016), the story of a young Brummie girl’s beauty contest ambitions, also found a wide readership.
Man Hunt, 1996, and below, Dad Alert, 1999, two of Malaika Rose Stanley’s series of books about Max’s search to find a man for his single mum Ros was born in Selly Oak, Birmingham. Her white birth mother, Marina Stanley, had been detained under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act for being unmarried and pregnant by a black man and was immediately encouraged to give her baby up for adoption. After a series of short-term foster placements Ros was found a loving and stable home with foster carers, Fred and Jean, who she came to refer to as Mum and Dad.
Growing up in the 1960s as a mixed-race child in a mostly white suburb Ros was subject to the casual bigotry of the times, eloquently described in her 2016 memoir Loose Connections. It was not until she attended further education college that she began to explore her black identity. She recalled hearing the song Young, Gifted and Black on the radio for the first time as an epiphany. “My new afro was so much more than a fashion statement,” she wrote. “I was black and proud.”
Ros first trained as a teacher, at Dudley College of Education, which enabled her to indulge her love for travel. Fluent in German, she lived first in Zambia and then in Germany, returning to London only in her late 20s to settle and have children. She had already begun writing when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. The news prompted her to dedicate herself full-time to pursuing her dream of becoming a children’s author.
She was a founding member of Islington Writers for Children and the Black Women Writers Group and featured regularly as a speaker at British Council and Black History events and children’s literature festivals. Ros was also a regular visiting author in schools in Islington, north London.
Ros was modest about her courage and determination in overcoming the challenges of her childhood to live a full and adventurous life. She was surrounded with love from a close-knit community of family and friends, and is survived by her sons, Garikai and Danjuma, and grandson, Luca.