Society still misrepresented in children’s books

Children’s reading charity BookTrust and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) recently called on the publishing industry and those who work with children’s books to improve the representation of characters in children’s books and of the authors and illustrators responsible for them.

Findings from BookTrust Represents Interim Research and CLPE’s Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature report some positive progress over the three years from 2017 to 2019, but there remains a long way to go for representation in children’s books and publishing to mirror UK society:
• The number of children’s books published in the UK over the last three years (2017-19) featuring characters from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background has increased to 10% in 2019, rising from 4% in 2017, 7% in 2018 to 10% in 2019, according to CLPE.
• CLPE’s research shows that characters from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background remain significantly under-represented in comparison to the UK primary school population where 33.5% of children are from a minority ethnic background.
• The number of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK in the last three years has grown to over 8%, an increase of 3%, rising from less than 6% in 2017.
• According to BookTrust’s findings, the number of British debut creators of colour has increased from 12 in 2017 to 24 in 2019, but nearly half of these are self-published or published by a hybrid publisher.

The CLPE report, which identifies and evaluates representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages 3–11, provides a benchmark to track and understand progress and a toolkit to support both producers and consumers of children’s literature to be more critically reflective in the move towards a more inclusive future.

Both reports have made a significant contribution to the wider conversation about representation in children’s books and publishing, by ensuring consistent evaluation and supporting publishers to maintain momentum. However, the figures from each update illustrate the significant extent of under-representation across the board in children’s publishing and literature and the challenge that remains for the wider industry.

Jill Coleman, director of children’s books at BookTrust, said, “Books play an important role in shaping children’s lives : these stories and characters will affect how they see themselves and the world around them, their motivation to read, and their aspirations to become authors and illustrators of the future. We are pleased to see that there has been slow and steady progress in the representation of authors and illustrators of colour since 2017: but we are ambitious to achieve more. We have now revised our targets and want to challenge ourselves and the publishing industry to increase the number of creators of colour in the UK to 13% by 2022.”

CEO of CLPE Louise Johns-Shepherd added, “We began this work in 2017 and we know that since the publication of the first statistics work has been done across the charity, arts and publishing sectors to put in place a range of measures designed to institute real change. This change will take time because we also know that the structures and systems in place are entrenched and societal. Whilst the third year of data shows a continued increase from the first and second year of this work, we believe that there is still much to be done.”

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