Greater diversity in children’s books is needed
By Emily Oliver, Doorstep Library Programme Manager
Doorstep Library believes that greater diversity in children’s books is needed. Here at Doorstep Library equality, diversity and inclusivity are close to our heart. The families we visit embody these values, coming from a wonderful range of countries across the globe with different family set ups, backgrounds, abilities and experiences. It is both humbling and enriching to be welcomed into the homes of such a variety of people that make up our society – no two families or two visits are ever the same!
As a result, we fervently believe it is essential to reflect this diversity in the books we provide so that children in turn to see themselves, and those around them, reflected back as part of the society we live in. To never be able to relate to characters or pictures is alienating for the reader and ingrains a belief from a young age that they don’t have the same potential as their peers or don’t fit in. Equally, to never see anyone different from themselves represented only strengthens these divides and feelings of ‘otherness’. Books that reinforce an outdated depiction of reality can be segregating and damaging for the whole of society.
Here are some startling facts*:
- In the UK 33% of school age children are BAME and only 4% of children’s books published in 2018 featured a BAME main character.
- Out of the 100 most popular picture books of 2017 the majority were dominated by male characters, and female characters were completely absent from 20% of the books.
But the good news is that the beginnings of a revolution are permeating their way into the world of children’s publishing, and Doorstep Library is firmly part of it! There are increasing numbers of books on the market now that include characters of different ethnicities, disabilities, genders and family set ups – and, moreover, without those factors being the main focus of the story. Books don’t need to overtly ‘teach’, but instil equality simply by virtue of inclusion.
We are actively seeking out these books as part of a drive to diversify our book stock. And so far, the results are obvious. Our staff and volunteers on the ground say it’s very noticeable that children instinctively reach for books with characters who look like them, that they can relate to, as illustrated by heart-warming stories such as an excited little girl exclaiming ‘an Indian princess!’, a same-sex couple delighted to show their little boy a book reflecting his family, and an over-the-moon child running around showing everyone the character with a hearing aid, just like her. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls is one of our most requested books and Bryony Mathew is fast dispelling the myth that girls can’t be mathematicians and scientists.
“That hair’s like my hair!” Aryam is a reluctant reader, but books with characters that resemble her never fail to spark interest. Volunteers continue to search for books that will elicit those wonderful words from her… “That looks like me!”
We are immensely grateful to Little Box of Books, a diverse and inclusive book subscription service, for donating one book for every box they sell. Their wide variety of books are going a long way to showing greater diversity in children’s books and in helping us to diversify our own stock. Tiny Owl, a diverse publisher of culturally rich stories from round the world, are also kindly supporting us with a Christmas book donations campaign. If you want to help us create more stories like Aryam’s, please support these two organisations or browse our book donations wish list.
Remember: if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. But you can join the revolution.
To hear more about the children we support please visit to our Case Studies page.