by Farrah Serroukh and Louise Johns-Shepherd
We publish a Reflecting Realities report every year and have done so since July 2018.
We will be publishing our fourth Reflecting Realities report in November of 2021. As we crunch the figures in preparation for the publication of our next report, we thought we’d share once again what this process entails.
The Reflecting Realities report, identifies and evaluates representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages 3–11 and provides a benchmark to track and understand progress. Each report provides guidance informed by what we have observed in the titles submitted in each cycle. This guidance is devised to support both producers and consumers of children’s literature to be more critically reflective. This in turn enables publishers to produce better quality inclusive literature and teachers to be more considered in their curation of their book stock.
Since the first report we have received a great deal of interest in this work and many questions about the rationale, methodology, findings and guidance. We have been clear and open about that methodology since we first published. We use the same method every year in order that we can compare the surveys year on year. This provides a benchmark and a useful set of figures for the publishing industry as well as allowing us to draw out trends and patterns.
We have outlined the methodology in every report and we have a steering group of eminent people who work in this field who scrutinise our work. We want to be transparent so we have summarised our methodology and our process in detail here for readers who are new to this work.
1. We invite UK Publishers of Children’s Literature to identify, collate and submit every title in their stock catalogue that:
We work with all the UK publishers of children’s books every day, so we first send out an email to the person they have given us as a contact asking for the information. We let the Heads of the Publishing Houses know that we are doing this. In the years before the pandemic, we also invited all publishers to a meeting where we could explain the criteria again and talk to them about the process. We check our list every year with the list of UK publishers in the Writers and Artists Year book and with the Publishers Association and make sure we haven’t missed any out. We count the publishers by ‘house’, keeping all imprints under the publishing house they are listed as. For example, we count Puffin and Ladybird as being part of the Penguin Random House output and Wayland as part of Hachette.
We give publishers a deadline date and once that date is past, we follow up with every publisher who hasn’t submitted anything to make sure they don’t have anything to submit which could be the case. We make sure we are inclusive of smaller publishers, allowing them to submit pdfs rather than hard copies. During the pandemic all publishers submitted their books as pdfs.
2. When they send us their titles the publishers also fill in a form where they submit figures for the total number of books they had published with humans as main cast characters, the total number of books published with animals as main cast characters and the total number of books published with inanimate objects as main cast characters. We introduced this form in the second year of the survey at the request of the publishers so that we can report an estimate of the proportions of these different types of books. We then look at every single book submitted to apply the eligibility criteria to make sure that the books submitted qualify for processing. Sometimes, and in good faith, publishers may have included (for example) a book not published in the survey year or a sticker book or a book that doesn’t meet the criteria in some other way.
3. Once we have all the submissions together our team read every single book. They apply questions from an analysis framework which is structured to enable us to consider how many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic characters are featured in each book, their position in the narrative, their degree of agency and the quality of the representation both in the text and in illustrations. This analysis framework was developed with our Steering Group before the first survey and is designed to ensure a consistency of approach across the review team each year and help us to effectively review the extent and quality of ethnic minority representation in each title.
4. For the first survey, the team of reviewers was made up of our Teaching Team and our Librarian with help from Dr Fen Coles who is a member of our Steering Group. We realised there was an opportunity to develop the knowledge and understanding of future members of the publishing community and in the second year (2019) we trained and paid a group of seven interns who were drawn from the UCL Publishing Masters. We were aiming to repeat this process in 2020 but the pandemic and lockdown hit a few days before the training was scheduled and we were unable to train a larger group. In 2020 the analysis was done by our teaching team and librarian with support from two paid, trained Interns. In 2021 we have been able to institute online training and the analysis has been done by fourteen paid interns from Bath Spa University MA and BA Children’s Publishing courses with support from our team and their lecturers.
5. Once every book has been reviewed, we collate and review the data generated from the review process. This is a long and careful process which looks for trends and analyses the quality of portrayals of characters of colour as well as determining the headline numbers.
6. The figures for total output of children’s books are drawn from the Nielsen Book Database, which includes children’s fiction, non-fiction and picture books specifically aimed at 3-11 year olds but does not include comic strips, novelty books, annuals, early learning and reference books. Nielsen generously provide us with this information, they do not charge or receive any remuneration from us. Nielsen give us the data for the entire category for the year of the survey. In 2019 this was 28,522 books. We then filter the data removing anything that is not a book for 3-11 (i.e. we do not count books aimed at the pre-school market), not a book (i.e. it could be on this list and be a sticker game, a calendar or a diary, in which case we wouldn’t count it) and first published outside the stated year we are considering. This means we are using an overall figure for total output that meets the same criteria as that which we have given the publishers for submissions. We also filter out multiple editions. This is because we would only count one edition of a book in the submissions. In 2019 the final figure once we had filtered the data was 6478 books.
7. Once we have done this work we conduct a review team briefing in which we share the findings and analysis with everyone who has been involved in reviewing the books. We invite questions, encourage critique and provide the opportunity for the reviewers to add anything they feel is important for consideration based on the sample of books they reviewed. We then take our findings to our steering group. We ask them to review, scrutinise and to question our work. Our Steering Group have a range of expertise across the literature field. They are all experts and their names are clearly published in each report. None of our Steering Group are paid for their time on the steering group they are all volunteers.
8. The Ethnic categories used in the Study were drawn from the UK Census categories with appropriate extensions to these definitions to accommodate broader representations of ethnicity in literature. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of the Census definitions of ethnicity, we chose to apply these to allow us to draw meaningful parallels between the characters in the English population versus the characters who populate the world of books.
9. In the reports published in 2018 and 2019 we adopted the acronym BAME, meaning Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic to encompass the spectrum of ethnicities observed as part of the review process. We used the term as it was a commonly recognised short hand and allowed us to succinctly relay the data. We used the acronym with a caveat, acknowledging its limitations as being reductive and problematic and recognising that such collective terms can diminish the heterogeneity of each community of individuals classified under this term. In the third report, in light of evolving discourse regarding the term, it felt inappropriate to continue to adopt the acronym for the sake of brevity at the expense of the offence that it has the potential to cause. We therefore chose to omit the use of the acronym for future reports and have instead opted to use the terms ‘Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic, ‘Ethnic Minority’ and ‘Minority Ethnic’ to describe racialised minorities.
10.The statistic that details the number of minority ethnic pupils of Primary school age in England is taken from the Department for Education Schools, pupils and their characteristics*.
Prior to producing the first report in 2018, we arranged for a member of our Steering Group to visit the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. The CCBC have been producing an annual survey focused on ethnic representation in children’s books published in the USA for over three decades. Through the visit and our conversations with the CCBC, we were able to learn about their work and processes. This was an important fact finding mission to support us in thinking about how to best shape our process to ensure that it was as methodical, rigorous, valid and fair as possible and resulted in a report that would be helpful to all stakeholders in the UK. We were grateful for the advice of the CCBC but we have never tried to replicate their process.
This annual survey and the tremendous cross-sector and partnership work it has inspired would not be possible without the dedication and generosity of spirit of everyone involved. Our charity is truly grateful to the Arts Council for continuing to fund this work, the publishing industry for their participation and commitment to this research and for the diligence of every individual involved at every stage in this process. We look forward to sharing the next report with you soon.