Every child deserves to read imaginative and diverse books which will nourish them intellectually and emotionally--and yet unfortunately, in 2021, we are still falling short of that mark. The Reflecting Realities Survey found in 2017 that just 4% of children’s books featured an ethnic minority character. Since then, this figure has nearly quadrupled--and whilst the word ‘quadrupled’ may bring to mind the idea of a significant leap, that still makes up just 15% of children’s books. Similarly, a 2019 study showed that just 3.4% of children’s books featured a disabled main character. And in fact, portraying LGBT individuals or families in children’s books was illegal from 1988 to the early 2000s. These statistics show that a large proportion of our children are being excluded from crucially important media in their formative years. So, why is it important to feature more diversity in children’s books, and what can we all do to help?
First and foremost: Representation
Our education system, like most UK sociocultural institutions, are Eurocentric, meaning that they are geared towards white children. And yet, 33.9% of primary school children in the UK are from ethnic minority backgrounds. This figure is disproportionate to the amount of literature generated about ethnic minorities, who rarely get to see themselves represented on the pages of the books they love the most.
Much the same can be said in terms of disability, neurodivergence and LGBT issues. Children who are not able-bodied, who perhaps have two mums or dads or who have been diagnosed with a neurodivergent ailment, are simply not seeing themselves reflected in media in a significant or meaningful way. When they are, they tend to be relegated to ‘token extra’ characters who are typically not explored at all and have little depth.
But what can representation do, and why is it important? Representation in children’s books, and media in general, allows individuals to situate themselves within their country and their society--to feel at home and as if they have a valid and secure place in the world. Growing up reading only books about white, able-bodied children with nuclear families who are saving the world or learning to accept themselves, will inevitably lead minority children to believe they are not the norm, and not capable of the fantastic feats which children’s books are so good at imbuing our youth with.
As readers and authors, we must offer children the opportunity to have heroes who look just like them, and who can prove that they can achieve just about anything. That is, after all, what children’s books are all about!
But it’s not just for them…
Children who don’t fall into these categories deserve, and need, to read these kinds of books too. Children are by nature very curious, and it is important that we allow them to read and learn about everyone in society. It helps them develop empathy and inclusivity--traits which will carry them well throughout life and help raise kind, open-minded individuals who contribute to their community and stand with the struggles of their minority group friends, family and colleagues.
Reading and learning is where these seminal qualities begin, and it is so important we start this education young so that the next generation is raised to be better than ever before! A great example of a children’s book that teaches kindness and inclusivity is Simone Randall’s Sparkle The Fly, published with us here at Rowanvale!
How can we all help?
Firstly, if you are a parent--minority or not--next time you buy your child books, try taking the time to source the, albeit small, section of representational and inclusive children’s books out there. The National Centre for Children’s Books has amassed a list of 50 of its favourites here, which is an invaluable resource that showcases a vast array of beautifully designed and written books about different minority groups. BookTrust has also spearheaded an amazing campaign called BookTrust Represents to educate about representation in children’s books. If the demand for inclusivity is there, then the publishing industries will rise to meet this demand, resulting in an influx of more amazing books being published. We are already on a better path, but it is our collective responsibility to keep the wheels turning!
If you are yourself a writer who has written an inclusive, diverse children’s book, and want to see it published, then you can head here to have a look at our fantastic Children’s Book Publishing Package. At Rowanvale, we are always looking for inclusive and diverse work to publish, and we would love to hear from you.