Gavin was born in Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Her father was Indian and her mother English; they met as teachers in Iran. She learned to describe herself as "half and half". She says online that from her mixed background "I inherited two rich cultures which ran side by side throughout my life, and which always made me feel I belonged to both countries."
She first visited England when she was six, and settled there when she was 11. She worked in the music department of the BBC before becoming a writer.
She wrote her first book after her first child was born because she became aware that there were few children's books reflecting their experience as multi-racial children. She has also written books reflecting her childhood in India, particularly her Surya trilogy.
The Surya trilogy (1992 to 1997) is a family saga following two generations of Indian Sikhs and showing the impact of the British Empire and the Partition of India on their lives. The three volumes are The Wheel of Surya (1992), The Eye of the Horse (1994) and The Track of the Wind (1997). All three books made the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize shortlist and The Wheel of Surya was special runner-up.
Coram Boy won the 2000 Whitbread Prize as Children's Book of the Year. It is set in the 18th century, based on the Foundling Hospital established by sea captain Thomas Coram. According to a local newspaper, the story "has links to Gloucestershire". Coram Boy has been adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson and produced by the Royal National Theatre in 2005–2006, as well as briefly on Broadway in 2007.
Three Indian Goddesses and Three Indian Princesses are collections of short stories based around Indian legends.
Nine short stories were collected as The Magic Orange Tree and Other Stories.
Grandpa Chatterji is a series for younger children, named for its first book, which was adapted for television in 1997. Other books in the series are Grandpa Chatterji's Third Eye and Grandpa's Indian Summer. The first book made the Smarties Prize shortlist for reader ages 6–8.
Jamila Gavin also wrote The Robber Baron's Daughter, Forbidden Memories, I Want to be An Angel, Kamla and Kate, Someone's Watching, Someone's Waiting, The Hideaway and The Wormholers.
- "Jamila Gavin – Author". Egmont UK Ltd. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
- "Jamila Gavin". Shakespeare Schools Festival (ssf.uk.com). London. . Retrieved 27 November 2012.
- "Author Jamila Gavin supports restoration of Minchinhampton Market House". Rachel Clare. Stroud News & Journal. 18 November 2009. Retrieved 19 November 2009.
- "Alexander the Great: Man, Myth, or Monster?" (publisher display). Walker Books. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
Walker describes the book as biography and history but says that it "will fascinate young readers of fact and fiction alike" and assigns the BIC Code "General fiction (Children's/YA)".
- "South Bank: 2003–2012". The History of the National Theatre. National Theatre. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
- . Video.
- Jamila Gavin at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 8 September 2013. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
- Official website[dead link]
- Jamila Gavin at British Council: Literature
- Coram Boy at the Royal National Theatre[page needed]
- Stageworks: The National Theatre's educational website for Coram Boy[dead link]
- Jamila Gavin at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database