A Spotlight on Farrah Serroukh and the Reflecting Realities Report

Published on: 
Wednesday, 9 January 2019 - 4:24pm
Farrah Serroukh and Jessica Arnold


In our January newsletter we wrote a spotlight on Farrah Serroukh our regional learning programmes leader, who led the work on our 2018 Reflecting Realties report and is continuing to do so this year.

The first Reflecting Realities report, published last summer, looked into ethnic representation in UK children's literature and found that only 4% of children's books published in 2017 had a BAME character and only 1% of these characters were the main role within the book.

We announced in December 2018 that we have secured funding to continue this research. Read more about this in our news release.

Q&A with Farrah:

1. It’s great that you have secured Arts Council funding to be able to continue with the ‘Reflecting Realities’ initiative. What was it that inspired you to produce the first survey?

F: As a teacher in school and in my role working with teachers at the CLPE, I have always encouraged the importance of promoting and using quality literature in the classroom. Sourcing books with characters and contexts that resonate with the children we teach is paramount to shaping them as readers and broadening their worldview. I strongly believe in the affirming and transformative power of inclusive books. It’s therefore crucial that we are discerning and critically reflective in our text choices and recommendations.

That said, I also know that more often than not I have had to look to specialist booksellers and order titles from abroad to secure a breadth and range of inclusive titles for the children I’ve worked with. There has been a long-standing debate about the degree of ethnic representation in the content of UK children’s publishing output as emphasised through the tireless advocacy of grassroots organisations, independent publishers, booksellers, writers and academics. However, unlike the US, we have never had the extent of the issue quantified. A lack of statistical data in this area meant that often we were relying on our gut to determine the size of the imbalance. We were keen with our Reflecting Realities initiative to provide a benchmark that would help inform all stakeholders of where we actually are and provide guidance on how we move on.

2. The first survey revealed some shocking statistics, but what was it about the whole process that surprised you the most?

F: We read a vast number of books at the CLPE, quality literature is central to our programme, corebook collections and beautiful reference library. It is important that we curate the best titles for these purposes, which means as a team we have a good sense of what the market currently has to offer. Therefore, the statistics themselves were not particularly surprising but what I didn’t anticipate was the overwhelming outpouring of support for the rationale that underpins this work and the chord that the findings struck with people within and beyond the industry.

3. The survey is clearly much needed, but what would you say is the most important reason for this research?

F: It has become clear that there is an appetite for hard data because this helps us have a clear idea of what needs to be done and a benchmark against which to measure our efforts. This has inspired long-standing advocates in the field as well as emerging champions. Letterbox Library have developed a Reflecting Realities book pack and new publisher Knights Of has set up an inclusive pop-up book shop in Brixton, both direct responses to the survey findings. We have had countless people and organisations reach out to us to share the amazing work they are doing to redress the imbalance. Things will only improve through collective efforts and the survey has galvanised many to move forward together.

4. Do you think we will see a marked improvement in the findings of the next cycle of reporting? If not how long do you think it will take to see a change in children’s literature?

F: The American equivalent produced by the Co-operative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison has been established for over 35 years and during that time there has been a steady positive trajectory. Whilst the imbalance hasn’t been totally redressed and there is still much work to be done, this model of an annual cycle means that the industry is kept to account and the importance of representation in children’s literature is kept in the public consciousness rather than being reduced to a conversational trend that arises once every few years. This, we hope, will over time amount to meaningful and long-standing change.

5. Finally, when will we be able to read the next survey?

F: We look forward to publishing the next report in the summer of 2019.

To keep up to date with our Reflecting Realities report progress and other CLPE research, follow our social media.

Read the First report in full.