Estimated reading time: 3 mins
The current state of diversity in children’s books is disappointing to say the least. As a black parent, I have to work harder to find books for my toddler daughter which contain main characters that look like us. On deep reflection, looking back to my earlier years as a child, my favourite children’s books were so not diverse! Far from it. The lead characters were always white, or cuddly animals. Whilst there is nothing wrong with writers, illustrators and publishers creating characters and content inspired by their own world view, it made me think of the impact this had on me, or could have had. For example, subconsciously reinforcing that the world is dominated by one particular racial group. This is a problem for our young people.
So why’s all of this important?
Children are like sponges. They absorb just about everything you beam toward them: data, literature, speech; our actions and everyday experiences. They soak it all up. Being able to identify and recognise yourself in the material you consume, seeing yourself depicted as a main character, is something which can draw the reader further in, exposing children to the courage, achievements and success of the main protagonist. This is particularly important for young people who are beginning to form their own world views: their identity, their place in society, aspirations and goals.
In the United Kingdom, between 2017-2019 only 5% of children’s books had an ethnic minority main character.* This is startling disparity, especially as we know that the collective human experience is not built on the story of any single racial group. Yet when it comes to children’s literature, parents searching for diverse books have to go the extra mile.
For those children from ethnic minorities groups, the absence of seeing themselves represented as main characters, sends a stark message; that by society failing to represent you, you don’t matter. This is clearly not acceptable.
So what can be done?
Well, acknowledgment of a problem is a good place to start. But statistics, reports and endless conversations about the under-represented, require action to begin tackling the disparities.
So what’s to stop black people writing their own books?
The answer to this question is debatable and runs deep. But we can all accept that differing circumstances, opportunity and representation within the publishing industry are challenges yet to be overcome by people from ethnic minorities groups.
We believe that the under-represented, as hard as it may be, must begin to create content and showcase our identities within the literature presented to our children. This is a problem for the whole of society to address, but a need for black writers, illustrators, educators and entrepreneurs to step forward is urgently required. After all, we are uniquely (but not exclusively) placed to tell our stories from our point of view.
Our mission at Little Scholars Playground is to begin to tackle the imbalances described, one book at a time.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Comment below, let’s start a conversation.
Little Scholars Playground
*CLPE’s Reflecting Realities – Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature published 2020
About the Author
Denhue is the co-founder and Author at Little Scholars Playground. He is passionate about literacy, learning, writing and STEM.