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There’s Something Wrong With UK Kids Book Publishing

LH Johnson

Staff Writer

LH reads, writes and researches children’s books. She's also a librarian, blogger, and makes pretty amazing chocolate brownies. Cake and books, what’s not to love?

A new report released by CLPE and Booktrust, which reviewed children’s books published in the UK during 2017, has thrown the state of UK children’s book publishing into stark relief. Basically, everything’s more than a little bit white and that’s not good enough.

children's book publishing

As a white academic myself, I come from a position of privilege in being able to talk about these issues. I’m privileged in being able to call this out, and I should. I really should. The world is not made in my image, nor should it be. It’s important to recognise that.

It’s also important to recognise that slowly but surely, UK children’s literature is disenfranchising great swathes of readers and some days I am so frustrated about that that I do not know what to do with myself.

Here’s some of the headlines from the report:

  • 9115 children’s books were published in the UK in 2017. Of these only 391 featured BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) characters
  • Only 4% of the children’s books published in 2017 featured BAME characters
  • Only 1% of the children’s books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character
  • Over half the fiction books with BAME characters were defined as “contemporary realism” (books set in modern day landscapes/contexts)
  • 10% of books with BAME characters contained “social justice” issues
  • Only one book featuring a BAME character was defined as “comedy”

I’d like to say these are novel figures and that they come as a surprise, but as Dr. Aishwarya Subramanian points out, they really don’t.

2017 also saw an all-white longlist for the Carnegie and this is, quite rightfully, being challenged. The Carnegie Medal is one of Britain’s most prestigious for children’s literature and one of its longest established. It was first set up in 1935 and has never been won by a BAME author. (Full disclosure: I am a member of CILIP. I can nominate for this award and have done so on several occasions.)

I am so sad right now. I am sad for the families who come to me and ask for books to help their mixed race child understand their identity; I am sad for the professionals who try and do their best under barely existent budgets, and I am sad for those readers who search for some model of themselves within literature and are not allowed to find such.

We need diverse books. We need honest, true and reflective books. We need books that depict society as it is, in all of its glory.

So here are some of the people who are trying to do precisely that. Please consider following, buying, retweeting and supporting what they do.