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So You’ve Curated a List of “Best Books of All Time” With Only White Authors

Deepali Agarwal

Staff Writer

Deepali Agarwal has a Master’s in literary linguistics, which means that every person she’s ever known has, at some point, asked her to ‘edit a thing’ for them-- ‘just see if it reads okay?’ She doesn’t mind, because she believes that the world can be fixed one oxford comma at a time. Deepali lives in Delhi, the capital of India, where cows are sacred, but authors and poets exist and write brilliant things. She works as an editor with OUP India’s School ELT division, where she moves apostrophes, looks up pictures of cats, and talks about children’s books for eight hours. The rest of her day is spent reading, thinking about Parks and Recreation, and wondering if there exist jobs for English majors that pay more than peanuts. Twitter: @DeepaliAgarwal_

Today I came across a list by The Telegraph, originally published in March, of 15 Best Children’s Books of All Time. I’m not going to lie, I did not go in with a lot of expectations. I clicked on it because Waterstones UK’s Twitter account had retweeted it and I was curious despite all the warning signs being in place: a large image of J.K. Rowling and the cover of Charlotte’s Web. By the time I shut the tab after 25 clicks (firstly, don’t do that: do not ask me to click once per book recommendation; and secondly—and hilariously—there are 25 titles on there, so the heading is incorrect) I was enraged out of proportion.

You probably don’t “see colour,” right? I’m probably overreacting to an innocent list of 25 children’s books? But as a vertical solely dedicated to talking about books, with a large social media outreach, what are you doing when you’re selectively putting white authors on the forefront of good children’s books “of all time”?

the wind in the willowsI might’ve let this go by if this were a list of most popular books, or limited to the “classics”, but this is unforgivable. You’ve put time and effort into creating a list of books which everyone has already heard of, and children all over the world are already introduced to in their reading. The selected books are either extremely popular and unmissable, like Harry Potter, or truly mundane, like The Wind in the Willows (I’m sorry, okay!? I just don’t get that book!). What is the value in recommending these to your 200,000 readers? A simple Google search for good children’s books would’ve thrown these up anyway, in a fraction of a second. And there would be no clicking for more recs; simply scroll through Google’s slide.

Here we go for proof; six of those authors, visible without even my scrolling to the right, are overlapping with your very significant list.

Okay, you say, maybe we didn’t revolutionize the reading world, but surely no harm was done?

I beg to differ. In a day and age when interesting, widespread conversations are happening regarding the urgent need for more diversity in publishing, and more diverse books in the hands of, most importantly, children and young adults, you could and should have made an effort. The absence of any editorial thought is not neutral, it works negatively by more firmly placing works by white authors at the head of the ship, despite there being amazing (both underrated and popular) books by PoC you could’ve given a boost.

Let’s be real, The Telegraph isn’t really going to change their journalistic practices, but this goes for everyone in the bookish community: just don’t. Don’t casually throw together a list of books whose names you’ve heard most, and pass them off as “best of all time.” It hurts everything.

Here are three of Book Riot’s many, many posts about diverse reading recommendations for children to get you started: