Announcing Reflecting Realities 2019: the CLPE’s second survey into ethnic representation in UK Children’s Literature.

We are pleased to publish our second Reflecting Realities report looking at Ethnic Representation in UK Children's Literature. Funded by Arts Council England, the publication follows on from our landmark survey last year which was the first of its kind to examine BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) representation in UK Children’s books.

The 2019 report, which launched at the CLPE on September 19th, surveyed all children’s books published in 2018. It reports a small but significant increase in the presence of BAME characters in picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages 3 – 11 compared to the previous year. The survey examines both the quantity of books featuring BAME characters and, crucially, the quality of ethnic representation, and provides recommendations for all those working with children’s books to help ensure that people from a range of ethnic backgrounds are portrayed accurately and positively.

Key findings from this year’s Reflecting Realities survey:

  • BAME pupils make up 33.1% of the school population in England.
  • 11,011 children’s books were published in 2018 and from that 743 were found to have a BAME presence.
  • The percentage of books featuring a BAME character has increased from 4% to 7%, while the percentage of books with BAME protagonists has increased from 1% to 4%, compared to 2017. 

Although there has been an increase in the number of Children’s books with BAME characters since last year, the report cautions against complacency and encourages producers and consumers to consider the quality as well as the quantity of representation. It offers guidance and vocabulary to support the consideration of some of the more challenging issues of ethnic representation in children’s book.

Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education said “CLPE works to ensure all children can become literate and so we are heartened that more children will be able to see themselves reflected in their reading material but we are also aware that this is just the beginning of a journey.  The call for more inclusive books is as much about quality as it is about volume. Better representation means just that, better in all regards, because all young readers deserve the best that the literary world has to offer.”

The report is authored by Farrah Serroukh who was honoured by the UKLA this year when she received the Brenda Eastwood Award for good practice in empowering children to respect and appreciate diversity. The Award recognized the impact of the first Reflecting Realities survey which helped shine a spotlight on the range of work in this area from both independent and large publishers. Many of these pioneering publishers participated in the #ReadTheOnePercent social media campaign – a movement sparked by our original report. The publication of the report also provided the inspiration for a crowdfunding initiative to create Knights Of’s permanent Round Table bookshop in the heart of Brixton, London as well as many other initiatives, booklists and displays from other organisations, schools and academics.

BookTrust’s Represents report: Representation of people of colour among Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators also considers ethnic representation in Children’s books from the perspective of authors and illustrators. This report highlighted the challenges many producers and creators of children’s literature face and campaigned for better representation in the children's book industry.

Read the full 2019 report to discover our recommendations and guidelines for positive representation

Read this blog from Jane Spence at Harrow Gate Primary Academy to find out how last year’s survey impacted on their practice.

The report contains quotes from children from Surrey Square Primary School and Netley Primary School talking about their experience of reading current children’s fiction. 

Letterbox Library produce a Reflecting Realities bookpack which contains a wealth of books for children of all ages which offer accurate and well developed BAME characterisations, especially BAME protagonists.

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Modelled on the research into ethnicity in children's book publishing by the Co-operative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin, which has been building a body of work in this area since 1985, Reflecting Realities looks to alter attitudes within publishing and cultural education. It will be produced annually and the CLPE has secured Arts Council funding for three years to ensure there are benchmark figures for the industry and a clear picture of the improvements taking place.  

“CLPE’s work in investigating the diversity of characters in children’s books, and highlighting the importance of the quality of that representation, continues to be critical as we consider how to support the sector in ensuring that all children are able to see themselves in the books that they read.”, Arts Council England.