Lauren Child is the latest author to tackle the lack of diversity in children’s books; her latest picture book, The New Small Person, featuring a black family, will be published by Puffin in September.
Like many authors, Child thinks “too few” children’s books depict characters who are not white. “It is very important for a child to easily find books with characters who look like them,” she told The Bookseller. “It’s important to be able to read about a life that reflects their own, just as it’s important for children to read about a life that is very different from [their own, and] to see pictures of characters who do not look like them.”
The book is about a small boy called Elmore Green, whose comfortable existence as an only child is disrupted by the news that a sibling is on the way. The character of Elmore was inspired by a friend’s little boy, but the story is based on Child’s own experience of “being a youngest child and then not a youngest child”. She said: “I can remember so vividly the feeling of being superseded by someone smaller and cuter than me. So many times I was told to forgive my little sister’s snatchings and grabbings and breakings, so many of my precious things lost.”
Child pointed out that characters in her previous books were of varied ethnic backgrounds—for example Lola’s friend Lotta in the Charlie and Lola series, published by Orchard Books—but said she realised several years ago that none of them were central characters, and none were on the books’ covers.
Child said that in too many cases authors create books centred around “issues” relating to ethnicity, rather than “simply stories for the story’s sake”.
She said: “I live in London, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and generally the children I see in my home city are not reflected in the picture books I have on my shelves.”
Child loved working on the book, “almost more than any other . . . it is a long time since I last illustrated a picture book and a very long time since I’ve created and drawn a completely new character”. She said she currently has no plans to create a sequel but pointed out that she had no initial plans for a sequel to Clarice Bean, That’s Me or the first Charlie and Lola title, I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato, so you “never know”.
The New Small Person (hb, £10.99), aimed at readers aged three and over, will be released on 4th September.
Another well-known author, Philip Ardagh, has today (Monday 4th August) spoken out about the lack of diversity in children’s books, an issue he will tackle in his new role as writer in residence at Booktrust.
In a blogpost for the Booktrust website, Ardagh said he will look at “diversity of characters with physical disabilities”, adding: “Shouldn't we all be able to find books peopled with people like us or the people around us?”