Reflecting Realities – a survey to inspire change

Published on: 
Thursday, 3 October 2019 - 1:00pm
Louise Johns-Shepherd, CLPE Chief Executive


Our first survey of ethnic minority representation within UK children’s literature was published in 2018. Funded by Arts Council England, the ‘CLPE Reflecting Realities’ report was the first study of its kind in the UK. In September 2019 we published the second ‘Reflecting Realities’ report.

Before the publication of the CLPE report in 2018 the term ‘Reflecting Realities’ was not widely used. In the last year it has become a commonly-used phrase to explain the importance of ensuring the world of books accurately reflects the real life experiences of readers.

We take our jobs as curators and promoters of quality literature very seriously. We have always sought to put the best quality titles in the hands of children because we have first-hand insight of the transformative power of literature. Strong storylines, nuanced illustrations, relatable protagonists and rich language that engages children are just some of the features that make a book stand out. Because we work with thousands of books each year we have noticed the longstanding lack of quality inclusive and representative books that reflect the realities of many of the children in our classrooms.

We know that the under-representation of minority groups in children’s literature is not a new phenomenon and that sourcing quality, inclusively-representative books that reflect the realities of all the children in our classrooms has been a longstanding challenge. For decades, pioneers, activists and advocates, from individuals like Verna Wilkins through to independent booksellers such as Letterbox Library, have worked tirelessly to promote inclusive and representative quality children’s literature. The challenge isn’t new, the arguments are not new and the invaluable advocacy of the many who have come before us certainly isn’t new.

What is new is this report and its methodological approach to the subject. The first survey was published in 2018 and reported data from the UK publishing output of 2017. The second report was published in September 2019 and reports on publishing output from 2018. 

The data in our 2019 report, based on content from books published in 2018, indicates some small yet positive shifts. That improvement shows that change is possible, but it also serves to emphasise that there is still much to be done.

The first year of this work set a benchmark. This year, and in years to come, we hope to contribute to an ongoing conversation that supports the producers of literature to be critically reflective and considered about the choices that are made in the book making process. In the report we have tried to frame our findings so that they support future dialogue and give those within and beyond the children’s literature world a useful way of talking about the complex and multi-layered issues this survey highlights.

The value of reflecting realities, individuals, identities, cultures and communities is rooted in the importance of elevating all lived experiences and recognising them as worthy of note and exploration.

To understand and be understood is at the heart of the human experience. The space between what is written and what is read is often a safe space in which we can make sense of our lives and the world around us. The call for more inclusive books is as much about volume as it is about quality. Better representation means just that, better in all regards, because all young readers deserve just that, the best that the literary world has to offer.

Read more about the impact Reflecting Realities has had on classrooms by checking out this blog by Vice-Principal Jane Spence.

Download both Reflecting Realities reports to discover our findings