Children need and deserve to see themselves reflected in the pages of books says BookTrust Director, Jill Coleman.
Earlier this year the BookTrust team, alongside five of the UK’s most talented children’s writers and illustrators visited school children in Leeds. Nine schools to be exact, where our team of authors read to, talked to and inspired over 400 primary school pupils.
The visits were part of BookTrust Represents, our project to support authors and illustrators of colour, to get them in front of children to encourage young minds to read, to write and to one day see both as potential careers and to improve the diversity of voices in children’s books. It sounds like a lot but, with the support of the industry, the excitement of authors and illustrators and the dedication of our partner organisations who are keen to get on board, shout about the project and launch other initiatives to help raise the profile, we feel confident it is achievable.
In order to make effective change, we needed to start with an accurate picture of the creators of children’s books in the UK. Our recent research in association with University College London found that in 2017 fewer than 6% of authors and/or illustrators of children’s books published in the UK were people of colour and only 2% were British people of colour. This is at a time when 32% of school aged children are from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic group.
We want to change this figure to make sure that the books published reflect the current diverse society we live in. BookTrust’s aim is to double the number of published authors and illustrators from less than 6% in 2017 to over 10% by 2022. As part of the longer-term project we’re also putting authors and illustrators directly in front of school children, so they can see that there are people in the industry who look like them, so they can be inspired and have positive role models. Children need and deserve to see themselves in books, and to have access to a rich and diverse range of voices. If they do, it can be life changing.
On a sunny day in June we took Onjali Q Raúf to Shakespeare primary school in Leeds to read her award-winning The Boy at the Back of the Class.
Jacqui Fox, a Year 6 teacher explained to me how engaged the children had been when reading the text. Many of the children could relate to Ahmet’s struggles in the story and felt a connection with Onjali. She was like them. She looked like them and spoke like them.
‘I’ve never felt like this about a book before’ said Veena Nazim, a year 6 pupil at Shakespeare Primary School who was waiting in line to have Onjali sign her book. Ordinarily quiet, shy and reserved, earlier that morning Veena handed Jacqui a picture she had drawn for Onjali. A perfectly sketched pomegranate (you have to read the book to understand). Veena and Onjali chatted whilst Onjali signed her book, talking about whether the gift of a lemon sherbet (integral to the plot) was Halal. The joy on this child’s face knowing that she and Onjali were both Muslims is difficult to describe. Onjali inspired the Muslim girls, but she also inspired the rest of the class and the teachers too.
On discussing Onjali’s visit, Jacqui said: ‘Books affect us, but a real person can affect us deeply, I will never forget the profound effect Onjali had on us all that day.’
Seeing firsthand what a difference a book like Onjali’s can make to these children affirms why we launched the project in the first place. This reaction is exactly why these author visits are so incredibly important and why we all need to be doing more. Much more. In November, hot on the heels of our Leeds visits, BookTrust Represents is in Birmingham with a whole host of new author events in secondary schools.
We’re also hosting a series of FREE training events in Bradford and London in September (with London already sold out). The sessions are for aspiring creators of colour and led by industry experts, from the award-winning Patrice Lawrence talking about the ins and outs of the publishing industry to the incredible Joy Francis from Words of Colourdiscussing how creatives can build confidence. Best of all, they’re completely free! To register for the Bradford event click here.
More information on BookTrust Represents.
BookTrust is dedicated to getting children reading because we know that children who read are happier, healthier, more empathetic and more creative. Their early language development is supported and they also do better at school.
We work with a variety of partners to get children excited about books, rhymes and stories, because if reading is fun, children will want to do it. Our books are delivered via health, library, schools and early years practitioners, and are supported with guidance, advice and resources to encourage the reading habit.
Jill Coleman is Director of Children’s Books at BookTrust.