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Organisations championing diversity in children’s books

By Anshudha Garimella

New Brixton book shop, Round Table Books is part of the drive for diversity in children’s books. Publishers Aimée Felone and David Stevens set up the unique book store in South London, as part of the Knights Of project, which is dedicated to showcasing children’s books with BAME characters and written by diverse authors.

The duo were inspired by a report released by the Centre for literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) which revealed that only one per cent of children’s books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character, and only four per cent had any BAME character at all.

The report found that 10 per cent of books with BAME characters contained ‘social justice’ themes, and only one book featuring a BAME character was defined as comedy.Thus creating a pattern for BAME people in books, to either talk about prejudice or not to have a BAME character at all.

Talking about how Round Table works, employee Khadija Osman said, “There will be story time every week starting next month where various authors will tell diverse, inclusive stories with different characters.” Osman recalls how children reacted positively to the story Sam Wu is Not Afraid of the Dark by Katie and Kevin Tsang. “The kids resonated with him, the scared little character,” she said referring to the young Chinese protagonist. “The kids related regardless of race, as children are open to newer things.”

round table books, shop in brixton village, london
Diverse bookshop in Brixton- Round Table Books

Casey Elisha, author of Love Thy Fro said, “I think there’s a real lack of diversity in children’s books, but we are in a really great time where people are taking matters into their own hands to make changes. The self-publishing process has allowed so many people like myself to tell their own stories and create images children see themselves reflected in.

 “Through my books, I’m trying to make non-mainstream characters part of the norm. All children deserve to see themselves in books” she said.

Although the tide is changing, challenges do remain. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of closed doors when it comes to the publishing industry which makes it harder to make a real difference and have a lasting impact. But I really believe change is on the horizon” she added.  

 Elisha expressed hope that publishers open doors so that “those of us from those cultures can support those creatives creating content for our children.”

Social enterprise and diverse bookshop Moon Lane Ink collaborates with Round Table Books in a bid to raise equality in children’s books.

School outreach manager at Moon Lane Ink, Meera Ghanshamdas, said there are different bookstores throughout London working to improve representation in children’s books; their sister shop Tales on the Moon Lane has been open for 14 years. “You need something that gravitates to everybody,” she said.

“Authors from different backgrounds should be published, because better representation in books facilitates a richer landscape in which we are not just hearing from one perspective, but a wide variety of perspectives.”

For Ghanshamdas, “the less diversity, there is the more there is the idea of the ‘other.’ We are working for a future where the idea of the ‘other’ no longer exists.”