More than 50 representatives of the book industry met yesterday (28th January) to discuss a new diversity charter for children’s publishing.
A Place At The Table was organised by Inclusive Minds, a collective that is drawing up a charter, entitled Everybody In, to encourage publishers to release more diverse and inclusive children’s books.
At the event, held at the Publishers Association, a broad spread of publishers, booksellers, librarians and teachers met to give feedback on a first draft of the charter, which puts forward a number of diversity strategies publishers could commit to. Suggestions included seeking out authors and illustrators from diverse groups, ensuring the authenticity of diverse characters in books, and auditing current lists to check for diversity.
Speaking at the event, author and Alanna Books publisher Anna McQuinn said publishing is at risk of falling behind the times. “When Section 28 happened in the 1980s, and teachers were not allowed to talk about homosexual relationships as part of normal family life, we were publishing books like Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin. We used to be ahead of the curve. But in 2013 there started to be a feeling that demand has got ahead of us. People want diverse books and we’re not quite ready yet. That’s disappointing.”
Zanib Mian, director of Sweet Apple Publishing, said one problem is how diverse books are categorised, pointing out that while publishers and authors want diverse books to be sold as mainstream titles, booksellers often categorise them as issue books. "Publishers are trying to publish unself-consciously, but booksellers are selling them self-consciously,” she said. “Children reading should see those characters as being like them, not as an issue to be understood.”
Jonas Herriot, librarian at Richmond Library, and Carrie Morris, owner of Booka Bookshop, both said communication is a key issue in this area, and Herriot hoped the day would encourage all parts of the industry to discuss diversity more. “I’d like to find out if there are any way we can help publishers, and vice versa. If there is any way publishers can signpost which books are diverse, and flag it up on the catalogue, that would be very useful,” he said.
Morris said: “[Diversity] should just be a natural part of what there is in a bookshop. Communicating with schools and customers is important as well.”
Inclusive Minds will now draw up the official chart based on feedback from the event. As co-founder Alex Strick said: “We are a collective and want this charter to be owned by the book world. We want people to sign up for it so publishers can demonstrate how they are moving forward.”
The official charter will be released at the end of February or the beginning of March.