The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) have released their 4th annual Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature. It reveals positive changes but warns against complacency and identifies further room for improvement.
The survey shows that 15% of children’s books published in 2020 feature a minority ethnic character. This is a significant increase from 4% in 2017.
The CLPE survey, which is funded by Arts Council England, identifies and evaluates representation within Picture Books, Fiction and Non-Fiction for ages 3–11. It also reports that 8% of the books published in 2020 featured an ethnic minority main character, up from 1% in 2017.
In the 4 years since its launch, the Reflecting Realities Survey has had a significant impact, helping to ensure that all children have the opportunity to see themselves represented in the books they read. The survey not only provides a benchmark to track and understand progress but also serves as a resource, providing a toolkit and lexicon to support publishers and educators in the move towards more inclusive literature.
Key points include:
- Increase in children’s books featuring a minority ethnic character – from 10% in 2019 to 15% in 2020.
- Minority representation in children’s books is up significantly from the 4% reported in the inaugural report in 2017
- Significant increase in representation in Picture Books and Non-Fiction but the percentage of characters from a minority ethnic background in Fiction remains static.
- The Reflecting Realities Report highlights the range of initiatives across the publishing and charity sectors that have been working for positive change in this area but cautions against complacency.
Alongside the publication of the 4th year of data, CLPE announced that with support from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, they are taking lessons learnt from this research into 10 schools to support the reading journeys of 300 pupils across a 3-year period. The project will test what happens when children have the opportunity to engage with quality representative literature and will track the impact on their reading and writing. The initial findings from this work will be published by Sage in a new book from CLPE in 2023.
CEO of CLPE Louise Johns-Shepherd, said of the next steps, ‘Every year we say, this work is not just about the numbers, and we say it again this year. We can see that, across the industry there are real and concerted efforts to change the quality of pictures, descriptions and stories of people from racialized minorities. We welcome these changes, but we are not yet at the point where children of colour have the same experience of literature as their white peers. The survey shows us that work is still needed and this report highlights those areas and makes recommendations for future and further development.
We know that this survey sits within a wider societal context, we don’t presume to think that we can do this alone and we don’t think that we would achieve anything if we did. As well as looking at representation of characters, we need to look at who gets to write and illustrate the books; where the opportunities in the publishing industry are; who chooses what gets published, marketed, publicised, stocked and sold – all of these things go towards making a change to what actually gets into bookshops, libraries, classrooms and homes. This report celebrates the work of many organisations who are doing exceptional work to make sure that what we all do individually becomes greater than the sum of its parts – we hope that it is a useful reference point for everyone interested in this work who wants to find out more about real, deep and lasting change.’