Hallam research highlights lack of diversity in children’s literature

Racism, a lack of role models, inequality of access and microaggressions are all factors in a ‘critical lack of diversity’ in the children’s literature sector according to research carried out by Sheffield Hallam University on behalf of Arts Council England.

The report and literature review examined the representation of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds across the UK children’s literature sector.

The report was commissioned to more fully understand the current position of black and minority ethnic people working in the sector, the barriers they face and what the Arts Council and other organisations can do to achieve positive and sustainable change.

It highlights a critical lack of diversity across the sector, and through an online survey and series of in-depth interviews, shows how this is influenced by a range of factors – including experiences of racism and microaggressions, inequality of access through unpaid internships and poor pay, a lack of role models and a self-perpetuating perception of a limited market for diverse books.

It highlights that while there are pockets of innovative practice addressing the issue within individual publishing houses, libraries and schools, collective action and a systematic, cross-sector approach is critical to long-term progress. 

Recommendations include:

·         Mandatory training on diversity and inclusion, including anti-racist practice and unconscious bias training

·         Funding accessible, multi-stage, inclusive programmes that address and remove barriers to people from diverse backgrounds working in the sector

·         Market research to better understand the demand for diverse books, building the economic case for diversity in children’s literature

·         Guidance for teachers and libraries in partnership with schools, exam boards and DfE to introduce more diverse authors into the curriculum

Sarah Crown, Director of Literature, Arts Council England, said: “Every child should be able to see themselves in the books they read, but we know that there are very few ethnically diverse characters in children’s books – and that people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds are critically underrepresented across all elements of the sector.

This research helps us more deeply understand the barriers to diversity in children’s literature, and outlines key factors for why change isn’t happening fast enough. We will invest, champion and work with the sector in line with recommendations from this report, to try to achieve meaningful and sustainable change.”

Bernadette Stiell, Senior Research Fellow, Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Despite increasing awareness of the lack of ethnic representation across the sector, progress in addressing these issues has been slow. Our research found that specialist agencies and targeted projects are addressing these issues in innovative ways, yet large parts of the sector continue to perpetuate the status quo. 

Our findings suggest that all parts of the sector need to work together with committed actions and targets at all levels and stages of the publication process to make a meaningful difference.  Sector-wide challenge and change are needed so that children’s books truly reflect the diversity of children’s lives. Our recommendations aim to build on the good work already taking place across the sector.”

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