by Farrah Serroukh
At CLPE the word ‘power’ appears in several of our course titles, most notably in our flagship programme the ‘Power of Reading’. This is because books are powerful and this power is twofold. They helps us make sense of our reality and offer a gateway to worlds beyond our own. If, in our formative years, we are not seeing our realities reflected in the world or we only see problematic representations the impact to our psyche can be damaging. Literature, therefore, can be significant in nurturing a child’s sense of self.
In recent years there has been growing momentum across different sectors calling for better ethnic representation. This conversation is an important one and whilst its context might have changed over time it is not new. Under-representation and a lack of quality representation has been an issue for a long time.
It’s good to be reflective and have these conversations but only if they lead to action and ultimately change. Otherwise, they can serve as mere distractions and before you know it, the conversation has moved on to the next trend. At best you may have made some incremental change and at worst nothing has changed at all. With something as fundamental as identity, we can’t afford to have minoritised individuals and communities reduced to a trend.
We have secured funding from the Arts Council to establish the first UK Survey of Ethnic Representation in Children’s Literature, inspired by an American model pioneered by the Co-operative Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, with whom with are in consultation.
We don’t expect the outcomes of this pilot year to show that all is well, but we need a meaningful annual benchmark so that we can continue to guide all stakeholders to invest in and improve the extent and quality of representation long after the conversation has moved on. The industry has shown a lot of good will in wanting to redress the balance and we want the survey to support this. There is a strong moral, ethical and financial case for wider representation in children’s books. Engaging books make for more engaged readers and so reflecting the realities of your readership makes sense for all.