report shows fourfold increase in ethnic minority characters in British children’s books | Children and adolescents

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The proportion of children’s books featuring an ethnic minority character has nearly quadrupled in the past four years, according to a new survey – but researchers say “we’re not yet at the point where children of color have the same experience. of literature than their white peers. ”.

The Center for Literacy in Primary Education’s (CLPE) annual Reflecting Realities Survey, which monitors the diversity of children’s books in the UK, launched in 2018, when it found that only 4% of children’s books published l The previous year had a minority ethnic character – and only 1% had a major minority ethnic character. Described as “austere and shocking” at the time, the proportions have increased every year since, reaching 7% in 2018 and 10% in 2019, and – with 5,875 children’s picture books, fiction and non-fiction titles. -fiction published in the UK in 2020 – at 15% in 2020, with 8% of titles featuring a minority ethnic main character.

The report praised Pete Oswald’s Hike, the story of a father and child on an outing. Illustration: Pete Oswald / Walker Books

According to the latest official data, 33.9% of children of primary school age in England are from an ethnic minority.

“We know how long it takes to change things in the book industry. From idea to publication is a fairly long process, so we didn’t really foresee in the early stages of this work that we would get an uptrend every year, ”said report author Farrah Serroukh . “It’s a pleasant surprise. “

The increase was particularly significant for children’s picture books and non-fiction, with 48% of picture books now featuring a color character, up from 6% in the 2017 production, and 34% of titles from non-fiction.

Fiction remained static in 2020, however, with 7% of titles featuring characters of color, like the previous year. “Of the three categories, this is probably the most difficult to do well,” Serroukh said. “It’s really hard to write a color character quickly. You cannot go from the intention of a white character to changing that character to be of a different origin without doing the necessary work. There is no miracle solution. It is therefore necessary, from the start, to have intended to write the character of the color. And if that wasn’t the intention, you can’t really change it and change it to be something it wasn’t originally.

Picture books, on the other hand, can “give the impression of presence quite easily by switching palettes,” said Serroukh, and “we’ve certainly seen a lot of things happen.” While the report praises picture books such as Hike by Pete Oswald and Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall, it notes that often the higher presence of colored characters in illustrations does not also have instances of ambiguity and fluidity in the representations of ethnicity in the illustrations ”.

Novels like To Liberty! by Catherine Johnson! The Adventures of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, illustrated by Rachel Sanson, and AM Dassu’s Boy, Everywhere were also hailed as “captivating”, while You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied was noted for his “nuanced portrayals” of groups. demographic who have traditionally rarely featured as central figures.

The report also highlighted that in 2020, 90% of the main characters of color in children’s books influenced the narrative “in the expression of their thought, voice or action”, compared to only 38%. the first year of the survey. . “This is a positive indicator of the agency given to characters of color,” the report said. “[It] tells us that important editorial decisions are being made to ensure people of color have agency and voice. “

But she criticizes the “many” novels that have failed in this area, either because the presence of ethnic minorities “was too insignificant to be reasonably recognized as a meaningful reflection of realities”, or because the representation was “insufficiently or underdeveloped. “.

The study compares the fact that 33.9% of children of primary school age in England are from an ethnic minority background, with the 8% of children’s books that have a major minority ethnic character. ‘There is still some way to go before UK children’s books more accurately reflect the reality of the school population, but the speed of change serves to reinforce the benefits and tangible impact of the survey and a wide range other initiatives through publishing, charity and literature sectors, ”he said.

“Every year we say that this work is not just about numbers, and we are repeating it this year. We can see that across the industry, real and concerted efforts are being made to change the quality of images, descriptions and stories of people from racial minorities, ”said LCPE Executive Director Louise Johns -Shepherd. “We welcome these changes, but we are not yet at the point where children of color have the same literary experience as their white peers.”


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