BookTrust has published the latest report, Representation of people of colour among children’s book creators in the UK (2020–2021)
The research by Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold from the University of Glasgow reveals that 11.7% of children’s book creators in 2021 were people of colour, compared to 4% in 2007. Representation of people of colour among children’s book creators in the UK, shows a positive increase in representation, yet there is more to do before the body of UK children’s literature is truly representative, says the report.
Dr Ramdarshan Bold says, ‘It’s great that there’s a tentative growth in the number of children’s creators of colour published in the UK. This statistical data is an important part of establishing a baseline and uncovering discrepancies, gaps, and trends. However, numbers only tell one part of the story and, beyond the numbers, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to make children’s publishing more equitable. The creators of colour, interviewed for this report, gave very honest accounts – both positive and negative – of their experiences in children’s publishing, outlining some key barriers and enablers they faced. This ranged from everyday micro-aggressions to active allies in publishing to the joyful impact of school visits. I hope that book industry professionals, and those adjacent to children’s books, really reflect on these experiences, and the report in general, to ensure that diversity, equality, and inclusion are sustainable and embedded parts of the children’s book world.’
Analysis of BookTrust’s school visit programme, which has introduced emerging creators of colour to 48,800 children, shows the importance of all children being able to see themselves in the books they read and how this shapes how they view themselves and the world around them. Books can be an important tool in helping all children feel accepted, understand others and develop empathy and representation and diversity in books is important for all children, not just those from an ethnic minority background, and is an important factor in children’s motivations to read.
While there has been steady and positive progress over recent years to make children’s publishing in the UK representative of UK society, as evidenced by the latest findings from Representation of people of colour among children’s book creators in the UK, more long-term and sustainable efforts are required, if the body of UK children’s literature is to become truly representative.
The landscape in which creators of colour are working has evolved significantly over recent years. Some creators interviewed for the report talked about stronger relationships they had with publishers, there are more allies and advocates across children’s literature who – together with creators – are pushing for change and some publishers making long-term investments in the careers of creators of colour. However, serious issues remain, including concerns that issues of inclusion and underrepresentation risk being addressed as ‘tick box exercises’ which can impact on creators’ finances, mental wellbeing and their ongoing ability to continue to contribute to children’s literature. This is despite sustainable and meaningful change requiring long-term commitment, engagement and investment for creators of colour.
A further report, BookTrust Represents Schools Support: Evaluation Report, 2022, showcases the experiences of primary school teachers and pupils who welcomed creators of colour into the classroom and had the opportunity to introduce children to new authors, stories and books.
It found that representation in children’s books and their creators has a critical impact on children’s wider learning experiences and development in the classroom and beyond. In particular, the report found that the author visits and use of diverse and inclusive books in the classroom had a positive impact on children’s engagement with books and stories and their own motivation to read and write their own stories as well as developing their aspirations for the future.
Schools recognise the importance of representation in books used across the curriculum and want their pupils to read a diverse range of books with characters, themes and from creators who reflect the diversity of the UK. But they face challenges including budgetary constraints, a lack of time to discover new books and not having the knowledge and skills to effectively engage children in conversations about diversity. Creators who participated in the school visits programme value the experience, which they say supports their career and can build their confidence.
The findings make a compelling case for the ongoing and continued need for improved representation in children’s books, from their creators and the characters, stories and experiences that are reflected in the books that all children have access to, and the opportunity to read, concludes the report.
BookTrust has committed to strengthening its work with schools, publishers and creators to promote and profile diverse and inclusive books and stories so children can benefit from the lifechanging benefits that reading can bring. Last year 28% (891,133) of the books BookTrust distributed to children through its programmes across England, Wales and Northern Ireland were from a creator of colour.
Diana Gerald, Chief Executive of BookTrust said, ‘All children should be able to see themselves and wider society represented in the books and stories they read, and our research shows that this has a direct impact on their motivations to pick up their next book. There are now more opportunities for creators of colour to publish children’s books in the UK today, meaning more children can read their brilliant stories. Yet creators of colour still experience barriers. Overall, when you take into consideration the volume of books previously published and that still inspire children and live on bookshelves today, the UK’s body of children’s literature remains far from representative. Improving representation in the books children read remains at the forefront of our work and we are committed to working in partnership with children, families, creators, publishers, schools, libraries and more until we get there.’
BookTrust is funded by Arts Council England and is a National Portfolio Organisation.
 Creators refers to both authors and illustrators of children’s books.