The word is out more there is a need for children’s books that portray the diverse world we live in. I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Everybody into Books’ event at the Imagine Children’s Festival, The Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank. ‘Everybody Into Books’ was run by Inclusive Minds, which is an organisation managed by ‘a collective of people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature and are committed to changing the face of children’s books.’ Towards the close of the day there was a panel discussion on the importance of all children being able to find themselves in a book. Amongst the panellist were authors Lauren Child, Susie Day, Publisher Shannon Cullen, of Puffin Books, and two youths Luca and Rubin.
The discussion started off with Luca and Rubin. They both felt that they did not see enough diversity in the books they found. Between them they, they felt there should me more books featuring mixed race and transgender characters. Luca felt that children should not feel as though they are living in a social mirror. Ruben felt disappointed that he could not dress like his favourite hero for World Book Day because he couldn’t find anyone who looked like him. The consensus on the panel was there needs to be more books reflect the world we live in. Children should be able to see diverse characters of different genders, races and disabilities to mention a few.
The authors Lauren Child and Susie Day said as a writer you start with what you know. Lauren said when you first start writing you write what reflects the world you know. Her new book ‘The New Small Person’ is about a sibling relationship, not the fact that they are black. However, because the characters are black, she now has the opportunity to speak at an event such as ‘Everybody in Books’. Susie believes as writers you also start from stories you know from childhood. The stories that are popular and loved from most peoples’ childhood probably don’t feature diverse characters. However, her work reflects the world she lives in.
Shannon Cullen, Publisher at Puffin Books indicated as a practice, publishers need to step in and challenge writers and illustrators to create characters that reflect the image of society today. For example in a class room setting there is no reason for all the children appear white.
Other key points raised:
- When trying to write books for about and for youths perhaps writers an visit a youth group or approach and organisation like Gendered Intelligence, if they are trying to explore topics less familiar to them like being transgender
- The look of book covers need to change. They should not be a fear to put a black person or a person in a wheel chair on a cover. Additionally, the public need to get past feeling that if the character on the cover does not look like them then the book can’t be off any interest to them.
I attended the event in my capacity as an aspiring writer. While most of the days’ events were geared towards childen (Angelo and Valentian didn’t attend with me), the afternoon segments were quite helpful to me. As you know by now, I’m in the process of editing my manuscript and exploring routes to publish and market my book. Up until attending ‘Everybody in Books’, I was seriously considering self-publishing. It seemed to me from my research to date, that most books featuring black and mixed heritage characters and stories have been self-published. I put the question to Shannon Cullen. If the main route to having your manuscript seen by a publisher is via an agent, are agents aware that publishers are actively seeking books on diversity? The response was an unequivocal yes. So, there you have it, aspiring writers of diversity. Get cracking work on editing your manuscripts, find an agent! Publishers want our stories! As you can imagine, I’m super excited and all fired up. I’ve decided to complete editing my manuscript and find an agent for my book. One way or the other my book is going to market.
I speak it into being!