New research has found that 11.7% of children’s book creators published in the UK in 2021 were people of colour, up from 5.6% in 2017.
Despite the big improvement, though, “the UK’s body of children’s literature overall remains far from representative” said Diana Gerald, chief executive of BookTrust, in the report’s introduction.
The Representation of people of colour among children’s book creators in the UK report was written by the University of Glasgow’s Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold and commissioned by BookTrust. It found that while 11.7% overall were people of colour, just 4.5% of children’s book creators were British people of colour. However, there were 74 British debut creators of colour in 2021, up from just 12 in 2017.
As well as statistical research, the report also interviewed 20 writers and illustrators about their experiences of the publishing industry, including Dapo Adeola, Maisie Chan, Serena Patel, Dean Atta, Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Onyinye Iwu. Some said they had stronger relationships with publishers and saw publishers making long-term investments in the careers of creators of colour.
However, creators also felt “unable or reluctant to speak about instances of racism and discrimination openly in the publishing industry”, and brought up concerns that “some publishers are engaging superficially with issues of exclusion and under-representation”. Some authors felt that some publishers were rushing the publication of books by creators of colour simply in order to capitalise on the popularity of and demand for “diverse” books.
“We’re getting a lot of what I call cookie cutter books”, Adeola said. “Filler books that are rushed out, just to fill up shelf space and tick boxes” so that publishers can say “we have this book […] about diversity.”
Dr Ramdarshan Bold said it was “great that there’s a tentative growth in the number of children’s creators of colour published in the UK”.
But, she added, “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,” she continued. “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.”
Also released on Wednesday was a second report by BookTrust, about the experiences of primary school teachers and pupils who welcomed creators of colour into the classroom.
The BookTrust Represents Schools Support: Evaluation Report, 2022 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”. It also found that visits from creators of colour inspired many students “to write their own stories, with the authors they met serving as positive role models”.
Gerald said that 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,” she continued. “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.”