YA author James Dawson has called for “diversity monitoring” from children’s publishers.
The author proposed the idea as he delivered the annual Patrick Hardy lecture to the Children’s Book Circle in London last night (17th September). In the speech, Dawson said children’s and YA books should feature characters of different gender, sexualities, faiths, abilities, ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Children’s books are actually quite diverse but it’s hard to know for sure either way,” he explained to The Bookseller. “It would be a big job to monitor for diversity but it would come down to publishers. It they kept track of diversity they would have actual statistics. They would keep on top of good practice as well.” He added: “There’s always the risk of ticking a box then moving along. We want to track the industry to check that we don’t get a situation where, for example, suddenly it’s been 10 years since they last published a title with a gay character.”
Dawson is an author of fiction and non-fiction titles, including This Book in Gay, published 4th September by Hot Key Books. In July, he was named the 2014 Queen of Teen, an award set up by The Book People and voted for by teenagers, with many choosing him for his support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens.
Dawson said: “It’s vital that the crazy racists, xenophobes and homophobes know that we exist. Funny how the ‘I’m not being funny but’ people don’t have a problem with hobbits or dementors but they struggle with lesbians. Secondly, and more importantly, young people need to know that books aren’t always about one type of child.”
There should be a wide range of authors writing these books but white authors shouldn’t be afraid to portray characters of other ethnicities, he added. “There is literally no reason that a white, straight author shouldn’t write ethnic minority LGBT characters – there is almost certainly a gulf of shared experience to draw from and imagining the lives of others is pretty much our one job. This is a power at our fingertips – showing our readers that we are all fundamentally and identically human regardless of what we look like, who we worship or who we snog.”
He said the fear that a cover featuring a non-white child affect sales is still there, but said that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If we think books about minorities don’t sell, we don’t put them in bookshops where they – big surprise – can’t possibly sell.”
He also pointed out that the publishing industry should itself be more diverse. "Not being funny, but publishing events do tend to look a little bit like a 10-year sorority reunion. Very often you hear people referring to publishing as being 'closed' or a 'hard profession to get into' and I wonder if starting salaries and internship rates deter candidates of a low socioeconomic background… I'm not saying this to guilt anyone but if it's making the right people squirm then do something about it."
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