"Alarming" lack of BAME characters in children's books

Just 4% of the children's books published in the UK in 2017 featured black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) characters according to a new study into ethnic representation in children's literature. The study, Reflecting Realities, conducted by CLPE, concluded that every ethnic minority in the UK is significantly under-represented in children's literature.

CLPE ceo Louise Johns-Shepherd said, "These figures are alarming. 32% of children of school age in England are from BAME backgrounds, yet only 1% of books written for them have a BAME character in the centre. When I read these statistics I wonder about the cost to the imaginations of all our children, and particularly to BAME children."

With reading an important factor in developing empathy and understanding, CLPE programme leader Farrah Serroukh said, "If in their formative years children do not see their realities reflected back at them, the impact can be tremendously damaging."

The aim of Reflecting Realities, which launched in February 2018, is to quantify and evaluate the extent and quality of ethnic representation in children's publishing in the UK. To do so, CLPE considered submissions of all children's literature published in the UK that featured Black or minority ethnic (BAME) characters to determine to what extent they were represented.

Their finding showed that:

- Of the 9115 childrens books published in the UK in 2017, only 391 featured BAME characters; so just 4% of children's books featured BAME characters

- Only 1% of the children's books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character

The study also found that books that did include BAME characters tended to fall in specific areas; reading schemes made up nearly a third of submissions (29%) with more than half of the books featuring BAME characters defined as 'contemporary realism' (56%) - books set in modern day landscapes and contexts. But while these books featured the highest percentage of BAME character presence, only 38% of these expressed their thoughts in a meaningful way. Some 10% of the books with BAME characters tackled 'social justice' issues. Just one book featuring a BAME character was defined as 'comedy'.

Of the non-fiction submissions with BAME characters, a quarter (26%) were aimed at an 'Early Years' audience, pointing to a shortage of non-fiction for older readers.

You can read these findings and download the full report via the link, below.

CLPE has also created teaching sequences for books that reflect the realities of children via the same link, below.

The Reflecting Realities study will now be produced annually and is intended to support publishers to understand "the extent to which books mirror the realities of their readership", said the organisation.

CLPE and the Reflecting Realities steering group presented six key recommendations to help broaden representation in children's literature. These include:

- Better representation of BAME characters within children's literature in general - better reflecting the UK population, not as a tick box exercise but as a meaningful and accurate representation of the interconnected, diverse
society within which our children are growing up.

- Balanced content, allowing for cultural specificity without reducing characterisations to derogatory stereotypes or a two dimensional shorthand.

- Well developed and authentically portrayed BAME characters that should exist across a range of genres and within both fiction and non-fiction, allowing readers to experience the full spectrum of emotions when enjoying these representations.

- Better representation in non-fiction beyond the early years, ensuring that fully representative texts accompany children at each stage of their development and growth.

- Investment by the industry in both established and new authors from a range of backgrounds who are able to paint characters and worlds with the integrity that the subject matter deserves.

- Particular consideration should be given towards making books produced for the 'gift' and 'trade' markets more representative.

17/07/2018"Alarming" lack of BAME characters in children's books
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