Diversity and inclusion are hot topics in the publishing world at the moment, and while children’s books featuring diverse characters are, overall, on the rise, it is acknowledged that there is still a huge gap. A study in 2013 conducted at the University of Wisconsin in the USA discovered that of 3,200 children’s books released in 2013, only 253 were about people of colour, and only 223 were actually written by people of colour. More recently an Arts Council report in the UK revealed that just 1% of children’s books from 2017 had a black or minority ethnic protagonist.
Why do we feel this is so important? Well, many reasons. Books have the power to encourage and to enlighten, and a lack of diversity in books results in children being unable to see themselves in the stories that they read and unable to chart their future possibilities and ambitions. Children naturally need to identify with characters and settings. But it goes further than that. Of course they need to read about people who think, feel and love the way they do, but they also need to learn that these characters might not necessarily look like them, speak like them or come from the same kind of environment. Kids need to see themselves and people from other diverse backgrounds saving the day, working hard, loving fiercely and overcoming obstacles. Diverse books help promote respect and empathy for all kinds of people. They can take us to places we’ve never been. They satisfy our curiosity about the world. They teach us how other people think, feel, live, dream and thrive.
Whilst it is vital that the publishing industry seek to narrow this gap, librarians, teachers, parents and readers can all help by promoting and embracing stories by and about characters of all types of background. Many of us live in multicultural communities these days, making us ideal ambassadors. There are already many wonderful books out there that reflect and celebrate the rich diversity of our world. Here’s a few ideas to get you started, but we are sure that if you take a look, you’ll find many more.
- Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena (Winner of the Newberry Medal)
- Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
- You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
- The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
- Front Desk by Kelly Yang
- Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
And for younger readers:
- This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe
- Pink is for Boys by Rob Pearlman
- Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
- Grandpa’s Journey by Allan Say
- This Love by Isabel Otter
- All are welcome by Alexandra Penfold
You can find more recommendations in this excellent list by Love Reading 4 Kids.