Diversity and Inclusion in Children’s Books 2021
Books are the mirrors through which we see ourselves; they help us understand the world around us and how we fit into it. That’s why it is so important for children to see themselves represented in the stories they read.
One of the joys of reading is to connect with the characters, to recognise yourself in them and, in doing so, come to understand yourself better.
This is especially true for children, who are continuously seeking to discover the world around them and their own identities. Seeing themselves reflected in books is of vital importance to their development and sense of self-worth.
The current state of diversity in children’s publishing
The ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, and George Floyd’s tragic death last year, have highlighted the lack of representation of people of colour across all industries – and publishing is no exception.
A survey conducted by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in 2019 showed that just 4% of children’s books published that year had a central character from an ethnic minority background.
When this statistic is compared with the 33.5% of primary school age children in the UK from ethnic minority backgrounds, it is alarming that only a small percentage of these children will see people and families like theirs reflected in the books they read.
The BookTrust Represents Interim Research and CLPE’s Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature revealed that, despite this gross underrepresentation in children’s publishing, there are some positive changes occurring within the industry.
Three key findings from the survey were as follows:
Implementing long lasting change
Leila Rasheed, Director of the Megaphone project, supporting writers of colour in England working on their first children’s novel or Young Adult novel, said in an interview with Writers’ Forum magazine:
“There seems to be an increase in very high profile children’s and YA books by black authors…it’s so important for diversity not to be just a trend and for meaningful change to be sustained.” (Writers’ Forum, May 2021, Issue #232)
Rasheed’s words echo a crucial point about diversity in children’s publishing and the wider industry as a whole. Making sure children’s stories include greater diversity of characters, their families, and the areas in which the books are set, needs to be more than tokenism.
Breaking free of box-ticking
Instead of being regarded as a ‘tick box’ exercise or a form of virtue signalling, there needs to be real, lasting change implemented at all levels across the publishing industry.
Beyond the stories themselves, diversity and inclusion must be reflected in the wide variety of roles that help to bring new children’s books to market – from illustrators, to booksellers, to literary agents and editors.
The entire publishing industry has a duty to the next generation of readers, writers, and future authors to ensure children – regardless of their backgrounds – can see themselves, and their friends, represented in the stories they read.
What would you like to see change within the children’s publishing industry to make it more inclusive? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Connect with me on Twitter @MelBrannlund.
Look out for Melissa's latest articles on Anita Frost's author website, where she'll talk about topics including business and publishing, author news and events, and giving back to communities. You can find her in-depth monthly feature on the News & Media page of the Green Bean Collection website, discussing children's books and reading, early years education, living a greener lifestyle and all things Green Bean!
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Melissa Brannlund is the features writer and editor, for author Anita Frost.
Look out for Melissa's latest articles on Anita Frost's author website, where she'll talk about topics including business and publishing, author news and events, and giving back to communities.
You can find her in-depth monthly feature on the News & Media page of the Green Bean Collection website, discussing children's books, reading, and all things Green Bean! For more information or any queries, please contact Melissa by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.