Representation in children’s books is still not reflective of society, according to reading charity BookTrust and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), with figures showing there has been 3% growth in the number of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK in the last two years while 7% of the children’s books published in the UK over the past three years feature characters of colour.
The organisations said findings fom BookTrust’s Represents Interim Research and CLPE’s Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature reports show some positive progress over the past three years (2017–2019), but there remains "a long way to go for representation in children’s books and publishing to mirror UK society".
CLPE's survey, which identifies and evaluates representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages three to 11, showed 10% of children's books released in the UK last year featured a black, Asian or minority ethnic character, a figure up from 7% in 2018 and 4% in 2017; in the UK primary school population, 33.5% of children are from a minority ethnic background.
According to BookTrust’s interim report, the number of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK in the last three years has meanwhile grown to over 8%, rising from less than 6% in 2017, meaning there has been a "small but positive" change of three percentage points.
Jill Coleman, director of children’s books at BookTrust, said: "Books play an important role in shaping children’s lives: these stories and characters will affect how they see themselves and the world around them, their motivation to read, and their aspirations to become authors and illustrators of the future. We are pleased to see that there has been slow and steady progress in the representation of authors and illustrators of colour since 2017: but we are ambitious to achieve more. We have now revised our targets and want to challenge ourselves and the publishing industry to increase the number of creators of colour in the UK to 13% by 2022."
C.e.o. of CLPE Louise Johns-Shepherd welcomed the findings but cautioned against complacency. She said: "We began this work in 2017 and we know that since the publication of the first statistics work has been done across the charity, arts and publishing sectors to put in place a range of measures designed to institute real change. This change will take time because we also know that the structures and systems in place are entrenched and societal. Whilst the third year of data shows a continued increase from the first and second year of this work, we believe that there is still much to be done."
Sarah Crown, director of Literature for Arts Council England, said: "The CLPE and BookTrust’s respective research into the diversity of characters in children’s books, and the representation of writers and illustrators of colour across the children’s literature sector, has been crucial in helping to address historic imbalances and lack of opportunities. While it’s encouraging to see consistent improvement over the past three years, there is significantly more work to be done, to ensure all children can see themselves in the books they read and that the children’s publishing industry reflects the diversity of 21st-century Britain. I’m pleased that we’re able to continue to support both these organisations, working with them to identify actions and foster collaborations to increase the rate of change."
In 2021, CLPE and BookTrust will announce a major new collaboration to reach more children in schools. As part of this, both organisations are calling on publishers and other partners to work with them to help redress the balance and "make long overdue radical changes to ensure that children across the UK can see themselves and their world reflected in the books and authors they read" and "for the children’s book industry to finally reflect the society we live in".
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