Picturing reality

<p>There are some wonderful picture books on the market at the moment, both sumptuous reissues of old favourites and sparkling original work. So it is all the more surprising that so few of them reflect the multicultural society in which many children live today.&nbsp;</p>
<p>The London primary school where I help with reading has a typical ethnically varied intake. My brief is to use regular books to give the children a change from formal reading schemes and help them see reading as fun. I work with one white, one mixed race and one Asian child, and this reflects the make-up of the school, which everyone takes absolutely for granted.</p>
<p>Publishers of educational material take great care to show children in real environments and to be inclusive, whether in terms of race, colour or physical disability. But I have been struggling to find well-written, beautifully illustrated and entertaining new trade picture books depicting the mix of races my kids are used to. There are plenty of excellent books with animal characters or white children, but relatively few with human protagonists reflecting the mix which is normal at most city schools.</p>
<p>This week I went to my local Waterstone's after school and found it full of parents and kids buying books in the wake of World Book Day&mdash;a big event in all the schools locally. While I was browsing the extensive picture book range I overheard a (white) woman asking one of the sales people for picture books showing black children. The assistant was saying rather desperately that she knew she'd recently seen such a book but she couldn't remember either the author or the title, and eventually they gave up. I had a chat with the woman; her granddaughter was of mixed race and she wanted some picture books featuring a family like hers to read with her&mdash;not books specifically about the issues of mixed race families but simply stories where the pictures showed kids like her grandchild as a natural thing. She wanted ordinary picture books with no overt educational content.</p>
<p>Great picture books transcend any considerations of race or setting, and we enjoy some of the most brilliant picture book creators in the world, but it is strange that while stories for and about children who can read for themselves mostly reflect quite unselfconsciously the society their readers will be familiar with, British picture books are still often set in a predominantly white world. This isn't as true of the American picture book &#8232;market&mdash;so may we see more black, Asian and mixed race protagonists in our new picture books please!</p>