by Jill Coleman, Director of Children’s Books at BookTrust
“To you it may seem like simply an opportunity for the children to listen to an author but for the children in my class (93% of which have English as their second or third language) it was truly inspiring. Our school is situated in one of the most deprived areas in the country and it is vital for these children to be inspired and encouraged to aim high. So, to see someone not only from Newcastle but with a similar culture to some of them was fantastic!”
These are the words of Nichola Nichol, a teacher from Newcastle whose Year 6 class took part in a BookTrust Represents virtual author visit with Onjali Q. Rauf.
There is no doubt that reflecting the reality of children’s lives through the books they read has an indelible power. All children should be able to see themselves in the books they read and be able to read inspiring, engaging and inclusive stories by authors and illustrators that are representative of the society we live in. From their very early stages of development, books help children shape the way they see themselves, and make sense of the world around them. Children need to have access to a diverse range of books and stories featuring characters who both look like them and those who are different.
A shared ambition rooted in research
For years, the voices and world portrayed in children’s books published in the UK have been predominantly white - despite more than 30% of school children in England coming from an ethnic minority background.
Since 2018, we have published our unique research into the percentage of authors and illustrators of children’s books published in the UK who are people of colour. From 4% in 2007 to just under 9% in 2019, our research shows the publishing industry is making progress, slowly. Since 2018, CLPE’s complementary Reflecting Realities research into representation of characters that feature in children’s books also shows a positive increase albeit with a long way to go until children from ethnic minority backgrounds have the same experience as their white peers.
Today, our two research projects continue to work in tandem to show how the under-representation of creators is having a direct impact on the types of books that children get to read. Our research also serves as an important benchmark for progress and an accountability tool for a publishing industry that needs to continue to improve its practice.
At BookTrust, we share an ambition with CLPE for children to have access to a wide range of diverse books, stories and characters and in 2020 we formalised a collaborative working relationship into a formal partnership that seeks to drive long term and systemic change in representation in children’s literature and publishing.
As part of our commitment to getting more diverse stories into the hands of children, BookTrust and CLPE commissioned inclusive publisher, Knights Of, to produce a new anthology from 20 of the UK’s best Black British writers and illustrators. Booktrust has given copies of the anthology – Happy Here – to every primary school in England free of charge alongside a suite of teaching resources and related author events for schools designed to support teachers to give all their students a rich and diverse learning experience
Action speaks louder than words - BookTrust Represents
The children’s book landscape is in a different place from when we first launched BookTrust Represents four years ago. Since then, we have set the ambitious target of increasing the percentage of published children’s book creators to 13% by 2022. So how will we achieve this change?
We will continue to champion and support new writers and illustrators of colour, offering free industry training in workshops, advice clinics and expert Q&As to help them navigate and thrive in the publishing industry.
We promote and showcase the work of talented published creators through our book reviews, blogs, features and book gifting packs to families, schools and libraries. And we are proud to work with some of the UK’s leading authors and illustrators of colour, bringing them into classrooms, both virtually and in person and creating memorable learning moments for children who may not otherwise have the chance to meet authors and illustrators.
If you are a teacher, you can find out how to give your students a chance to be inspired by a leading children’s author by checking out our programme of virtual school visits on our website.
For this year's Reflecting Realities Report blog series we have asked our friends from organisations close to CLPE to write blogs about what Reflecting Realties means to them and how it aligns with their organisations work.
Jill Coleman is the director of Children's Books at Booktrust.