Children come in all colours – so why don’t their characters?

We live in a multicultural society, with around a third of primary school pupils in Britain coming from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

But only one cent of children’s books published in 2017 included a BAME lead character, according to a new study by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

Of the 9,115 new books last year, just 391 had a BAME character at all, even in the background – that’s about four per cent.

Interestingly, of those books that did have any diversity of race, ten per cent were classified as containing social justice issues while one solitary book – yes, one! – was a comedy.

It goes without saying this is simply not good enough, no matter what your own ethnic background. Not only do BAME children need to see themselves reflected in the stories they read, but white ones like Baby Bookworm should read about a world as diverse as it actually is.

As CLPE Programme Leader Farrah Serroukh says: “Evidence shows that reading is an important factor in developing empathy and understanding for lives and contexts beyond our own. If, in their formative years, children do not see their realities reflected back at them, the impact can be tremendously damaging.”

The study, called Reflecting Realities, is set to be an annual assessment and it is hoped it will put pressure on publishers to change their approach. It has been inspired by an American model which has been publishing similar data since 1985.

Naturally it would be nice if publishers did it anyway but the reality is that making books is a business and companies will often take the safer, ‘tried-and-tested’ route to make money.

This means it is down to parents and grandparents to choose books that feature diverse characters – not as a ‘box ticking’ exercise, but because the point of raising a child to build a good human being and broadening their horizons is a key part of this.

To give you a helping hand, we will be pulling together a list of stories with BAME characters in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out So Much by Trish Cooke, Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love and Billy and the Beast by Nadia Shireen.

We’ve also got Nadia’s favourite five books with inclusive characters here

You may also be interested in…

Why Ed Vere is smashing male stereotypes in How To Be A Lion

100 children’s books with female lead characters

Two books to teach your child about love and empathy

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