CPD update

New online courses now available to book!

Find out more about our new online CPD to provide extra support for your literacy curriculum

Learn more

Reflecting Realities Report: What does Reflecting Realities mean to you?

Published on: 
Thursday, 12 November 2020 - 9:30am
Holly Sterling

The Reflecting Realities report is an annual survey which reviews the quality and extent of ethnic minority presence in children’s literature published in the UK. Each report provides data and analysis of the books produced, and considers the extent to which the books reflect the realities of multi-cultural Britain. We address the shortfalls of poor portrayals and highlight examples of significant books encountered during the review process. In this respect, the report aims to broaden the outlook of our readership...

What does the term Reflecting Realities mean to you?

The term 'Reflecting Realities' for me, is the true representation of the world that we live in; in all its diversity. It is important for our young (and older) readers to see themselves in the books that they are reading. Therefore, as book creators it is our responsibility to reflect these realities.


Was there a particularly memorable book that shaped your early reading experiences and set you on your reading journey? What was it about this title(s) that appealed to you?

As a child, I was inspired by the stories and illustrations in books such as, Jill Barklem’s, Brambly Hedge, and Nick Butterworth’s Percy the Park Keeper. I was fascinated by the beautiful, and detailed illustrations. What is more, I was completely absorbed by these characters, and their inter-relationships. 


What are some of the major influences on your work and how do you decide on your subjects?

When I was eleven years old, my family moved from London to Kent. I had moved from a culturally diverse school environment to a secondary school where I was a minority. This was the first time that I felt ‘different’, although my ethnicity is a combination of white-English and black-Caribbean. Whilst studying Illustration and Design at Sunderland University, I reflected on the books that I treasured from my own childhood, and then it occurred to me that there was something missing. I realised that it was the actual representation of people like ‘me’. This was something that I was determined to challenge and change through my own work. 

As an author and illustrator, I believe that it is important to be inspired by the world around us, and the people within it. The characters for my books are inspired by real people; sometimes entirely, and sometimes in part. This helps me when I am getting to ‘know’ my characters, at the beginning of a new project.  However, it is important to never ‘force’ a character. You might use a variety of inspiration for a starting point, but as a creative, you have to allow projects to develop, organically. If a project moves away from your initial intentions, it is probably for the right reasons. This is how the best-work is created by authors, illustrators and publishers around the world. 


Finally, do you have any new titles or books in development aimed at a primary audience that you can tell us about?

I am currently finishing Ballet Kids, which is my second author-illustrated picture book, to be published by Walker Books. With a wintery ambiance, it is due for publication in time for Christmas 2021. This is the second book in the series which follows Karate Kids, published earlier this year. The characters for both of these books are inspired by the children that I teach karate to, every week.

Copyright © 2020 Holly Sterling. KARATE KIDS by Holly Sterling. Reproduced by permission of Walker Books Ltd, London SE11 5HJ  www.walker.co.uk

Although it is early days, I have also started writing a new story which takes me back to my family roots. It shows the blossoming relationship of two family members, combined with traditional family activities. It is a book that will be full of joy, energy and colour!


Holly Sterling is an author and illustrator, she kindly let us use her illustrations in the first Reflecting Realities report. Find out more about Holly Sterlings work...