children's literature

A shout-out to the HEROES: Inclusivity in Children's Publishing PART 2

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The Reflecting Realities report published by the CLPE earlier this week paints a bleak picture of inclusivity in UK children's publishing. I had my restrained rant when it came out but today what I want to focus on is celebrating the amazing work that is already happening to help effect positive change in this area. The champions of inclusivity, the changemakers. Please read, share, and add any projects I've missed. 

Finding and nurturing underrepresented voices

Publishers

The FAB Prize: Faber & Faber (Faber Children's) joint initiative with Andlyn Agency to discover and celebrate children's writers and illustrators of BAME origins. The winners receive a year of mentoring. (Another Faber Children's commitment: 40% of all children's book covers from picture books through to YA to feature underrepresented characters in order to reflect the reality of our society. It's something the team is really passionate about.)  

Little Tiger Press Illustrator Callout: have put out a specific call for illustrators from underrepresented backgrounds to submit illustrations for their Our Town series of books set in an inclusive town with a diverse population. In their callout, they mention the fact that underrepresented illustrators may not have the means or knowhow to put together a formal portfolio - this approach, like other programmes mentioned here, helps cast the net that little bit wider. 

The Penguin Random House (PRH) UK WriteNow Programme: a one-year mentoring opportunity for underrepresented writers and illustrators (not just children's). Siena Parker who runs the scheme at PRH puts a lot of energy into getting her team on the ground across the UK to actively seek out undiscovered writers and illustrators. Applications are still open for illustrators - deadline 23rd July 2018. I've been fortunate enough to be on this life-changing programme this year and have blogged about it here.

Knights Of: a new independent publisher with inclusivity at its heart. They publish books for ages 5 through to 15. Their hiring practices are diverse, their books are "windows into as many worlds as possible" and their most unique contribution to the industry is being supremely accessible - if you want to write for them, you use their Live Chat system to pitch your idea. It's a CHAT. Doesn't get more straightforward than that. I think that's a real barrier breaker right there. They also run the #BooksMadeBetter project to get fantastic diverse books into the hands of children around the country. 

Lantana Publishing: another young independent publisher focused on inclusivity. ALL their books are by BAME authors and illustrators. 

Agents 

Many literary agents have specifically reached out to underrepresented communities to welcome their submissions and offer support whether that's in the form of highlighting a submission (and perhaps bumping it up in the queue) or offering scholarships to attend writing festivals or courses, mentoring/support and advice re navigating the industry. I won't catch all of them (please tell me if you have more to add!) but here are a few that have particularly vocal in this respect. 

Alice Williams Literary 

Alice Sutherland-Hawes at Madeleine Milburn 

Andlyn  

The Bent Agency 

The Darley Anderson Children's Book Agency 

David Higham Associates

The Good Literary Agency 

The Lindsay Literary Agency

Other organisations and initiatives

Commonword: an Arts Council funded, Manchester-based writer development programme. Commonword runs the Commonword Diversity Young Adult Fiction Prize for unpublished MG and YA novelists whose writing embraces ethnic diversity. 

Inclusive Minds: a collaboration of consultants and campaigners around the themes of inclusivity, equality and accessibility in children's literature. They offer consulting, sensitivity readers and have brought a whole host of industry professionals together through their A Place at the Table event. A full report from the event can be found here

Megaphone: an Arts Council funded writer development programme to nurture new BAME voices in publishing.  The 2016-17 scheme was a great success - mentees have found agents and had short and long fiction accepted for publication and broadcasting. The scheme is due to be repeated in the near future. 

Quarto Translations/Golden Egg Academy Award for the Golden Egg Academy children's fiction programme (application deadline 31st July 2018) 

Tiny Owl: an independent publisher worth mentioning because their beautiful books all feature BAME characters and stories.  

Behind the scenes: changing the demographics in publishing

A number of publishing houses have made pledges around diverse hiring practices to make sure their internal demographics make them more reflective of society. 

Penguin Random House, for example, has pledged that its new hires and books acquired will reflect UK society by 2025. 

Hachette has recently hired its first Diversity and Inclusion Manager

There have also been a number of paid internships and publishing positions on offer with a specific callout to underrepresented communities. That the internships are paid is significant as income-related issues have historically been a huge barrier in this industry. Again, there are many more instances here that I've missed so please flag them and I'll update the list. 

Why stop to celebrate when there's work to be done? 

I know it's important to stay ambitious and focused and it's important we don't start thinking enough is being done because it's not enough. Still, sometimes it's also worth pausing to tip your hat to the heroes, the people who are already out there making a difference. Maybe there's somewhere we can fit in too. Maybe there's a gap that needs filling. Ideas spark ideas and action sparks action...

 

See here for Representation not Diversity: Inclusivity in Children's Publishing PART 1

Representation not Diversity - Inclusivity in Children's Publishing PART 1

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Today, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) published Reflecting Realities, its 2017 report on ethnic representation in UK children's literature and I can't stop thinking about it. 

  • Only 1% of the 9115 children's books published in the UK in 2017 featured a BAME main character despite Department for Education (DofE) stats for the same year indicating that 32.1% of compulsory school age children were of minority ethnic origins. 
  • Only 4% featured BAME characters. 
  • Only ONE book featuring a BAME character was defined as a 'comedy'. ONE. 
  • 10% of BAME books submitted involved social justice themes. 

This isn't a surprise to anyone in publishing but it's a sobering read all the same. 

If books are mirrors to reflect our own lives and windows into the world around us, these statistics show that we've failed children across the board. Children need to be able to see themselves and, more importantly, the people around them, in the books they read and not just in culture-driven or issues-based narratives. We need to move from ‘diversity’ to ‘representation’, from ‘niche’ to ‘normal’. 

It’s not just about bunging in a brown child to tick a box. It’s about accurately reflecting the world we live in. The reality is that Caucasians account for a tiny proportion of the world population. And that world is changing rapidly. The future of Britain – sorry, Farage – probably isn’t ‘white’. In fact, a 2014 Policy Exchange report suggests non-white people will make up 20-30% of the population by 2051 (14% in 2014). The 2017 DofE figures show that 32.1% of school-age children are of minority ethnic origins. Let that sink in. That's almost a third. Now have a quick glance at the children's section in those big, shiny bookstores. We’re talking about diversity as if it’s a fluffy, cuddly nice-to-have for children when in so many instances, this is what their classroom, their community and their future place of work will actually look like. And if it isn’t now, chances are it will be as they get older. Riz Ahmed hits the nail on the head when he says: 

We're talking about representation, not diversity. Representation is not an added extra. It's not a frill. Representation is absolutely fundamental to what people expect from culture and from politics.’

Moving from niche to normal

Diverse stories shouldn’t have to be 'niche' and underrepresented writers shouldn’t feel obliged to write about social justice issues. Of course, they should be able to - those stories are important - but they should be equally empowered to write a bonkers book without a moral angle. BAME, LGBTQ+, differently abled and low-income people have rich internal lives that don’t revolve around the elements that put them into those categories*.

In picture books, for instance, the presence of such characters can be even more powerful when it’s incidental rather than integral to the plot. A book about a zebra in space that just happens to feature a child in a wheelchair as opposed to a whole story around a boy whose life-issue is that he can’t walk normalises diversity. After all, why can’t a little brown girl have a normal dinosaur experience? Why do we need to ask the question, is this essential to the plot? Does it drive the plot forward? Who cares? We’re talking about reflecting society. How about we flip the question and ask if the erasure of diverse characters is really justified? 

Who can write diverse characters? 

Surely with sensitivity and quality research, anyone can. I often hear that fears around cultural appropriation, misrepresentation and tokenism can hold writers back - I'm going to save that one for a separate post but there are ways of dealing with this. It doesn't need to be a full-on roadblock. 

AND WHERE ARE ALL THE DIVERSE CHILDREN'S WRITERS, ANYWAY?

I for one am keenly awaiting the results of the CLPE author/illustrator study to be released in September this year. I've been going out of my mind trying to understand where the issue is. Is it top of the funnel? Underrepresented people not thinking of writing as a career? Not feeling like they belong on the bookshelves? Malorie Blackman often says 'if you can't see it, you can't be it'. Is it further down? Not enough underrepresented writers signing with agents? Or is it the publishers? Are the manuscripts too niche? Not enough of a social justice spin on them? Is it about the demographic makeup of the industry? Or the commercial viability of books by underrepresented writers? The answer is almost certainly a mix of these. The 'why' matters because it shapes what good solutions should look like. And what 'success' looks like too. 

A glimmer of hope

Since the news broke this morning, I've seen a number of posts from agents, publishers, and authors looking to effect positive change. I've had a few conversations with people in the industry about what we can do and there are things in the pipeline, which I can't talk about just yet but they fill me with hope. In their Huffington Post article, Aimée Felone, Co-Founder of publisher Knights Of, and Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, also have some wonderful suggestions as to what we can all do to make a difference. 

Finally, there's some great work being done already, which I will share in Part 2 to this post. Yes, there's a lot to do but change is afoot.

 

*The CLPE report focused on ethnic minority representation but the same principles apply to other underrepresented groups. 

 

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