Reflecting Realities Report: What does Reflecting Realities mean to you?
Our Reflecting Realities report is an annual survey that reviews the quality and extent of ethnic minority presence in children’s literature published in the UK. In each report we provide data and analysis of the books produced and consider the extent to which the books reflect the realities, as well as, broaden the outlook of their readership. We address the shortfalls of poor portrayals and highlight examples of great books we encounter as part of the review process...
What does the term Reflecting Realities mean to you?
To me, reflecting realities means that the services and products surrounding us, which we use or consume on a daily basis, including the packaging and advertising of those, should match the breadth of diversity within our society. I believe that if these usual things we encounter in our everyday lives, present and celebrate people’s difference, by osmosis we will become more accepting and inclusive as individuals. Conversely, if all we see is one paradigm then that becomes the accepted norm, whether it’s a true reflection or not, and things that don’t fit into that model, start to become viewed as undesirable. For a long time my work was a result of this unconscious shaping, in that for longer than I care to admit, I pretty much only drew white people, despite being mixed race. I didn’t question it, and didn’t see a problem with it. I’m ashamed by that.
What are some of the major influences on your work and how do you decide on your subjects?
Anime and manga were the triggers that first made me want to become an illustrator, for a long time I was obsessed with it. I even had a fellow Otaku pen pal - this was before the internet! So undeniably that was a huge influence, when I first set out.
Currently though I love the illustrations of Nadia Shireen, Ebony Glenn, Dapo Adeola and Emily Hughes, but I wouldn’t say there is any one particular artist who is a major influence on my work today. I think with the rise of social media platforms, and the continual stream of work that can be seen there, inspiration comes from so many other artists. More so than other illustrators and writers, my values and concerns are the things that impact most on my work these days. Particularly when it comes to writing.
Was there a particularly memorable book that shaped your early reading experiences and set you on your reading journey? What was it about this particular title(s) that appealed to you?
There’s no one book that comes to mind when I think about my early reading experiences, in the 80s. Fairy tales were the thing I liked to read most, and stories with a magical element, but it wasn’t books that led me down this career path initially.
Perhaps had there been books readily available that pictured a protagonist or even a sidekick of colour, things may have been different. But I didn’t own any, and back then you were much more likely to see a talking bear in a book than a child with brown skin in. Thankfully things are changing.
I remember speaking to Emily Drabble from BookTrust at a Black British Illustrators event set up by Dapo Adeola and Macmillan, about diversity in publishing. I said from a young age I knew creating artwork was how I wanted to make a living, and although I loved stories and writing, not once did it occur to me to pursue a career as a children’s book illustrator. That was the first time I truly understood, how much of an impact not seeing myself in a book as a kid had on me. I literally went from about age 10 to my late 20s, (many years after leaving university), before I considered it, and that came from other people suggesting I did. That is nuts, and honestly makes me quite sad. It look me a long time to join the dots, but I’m glad I finally did, and went back to writing again too.
Finally, do you have any new titles or books in development aimed at a primary audience that you can tell us about?
I’ve just had my debut book as an illustrator published by Little Tiger Press. It’s the first in a series of books called Our Town created by Sarah Shaffi and written by Isabel Otter. They’re pre-school books about first experiences, set in a diverse neighbourhood.
Afraid of the Dark is about single dad Harry and his daughter Amy, and her struggles with moving to a new house and a fear of the dark. I’m currently working on the second book in the series which centres around two very feisty and cute mixed-race, Pakistani/Nigerian twins - Sophia and Bilal. I’m also working on edits for a story commissioned by another wonderful publisher, for a bedtime anthology. Don’t think I am allowed to say much at the moment, but I’m so excited about it, and this is the first time I have worked with an editor so it’s a great learning experience.
Lucy Farfort is an author and illustrator, she kindly let us use her illustrations in the second Reflecting Realities report. Find out more about Lucy Farfort 's work...