That reading is good for kids (for all of us, for that matter) is a given. There are countless reasons why sharing a good book helps youngsters – it expands their vocabulary and their world, helps with spelling, teaches them about others and generally instills confidence. So why is it then, knowing this, that many of our little ones are still woefully under-represented in today’s children’s literature?
The real story
Like me you may not have realised, or even given it a passing thought. A local TV news story piqued my interest, and specifically a quote from an observant 5-year old that, “books are only about white kids”. What?
Turns out, he was right. The news item was in response to a research project carried out in 2017, funded by Arts Council England, where the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) asked UK publishers to submit books featuring BAME characters.
Of the 9,115 children’s books published last year, researchers found that only 391 – 4% - featured black, asian and minority ethic (BAME) characters while just 1% had a BAME main character.
The real world
But, according to the Department of Education, 32.1% of school children in England are of minority ethnic origins. That’s a lot of children who aren’t seeing, reading about, or identifying with the characters in the books that they read. And that can’t be right.
Factor in then those that may not be able-bodied, those that come from lone-parent, same-sex parent or mixed heritage families; where English is not the first language spoken at home, or the names of their siblings (even their pets) are considered unusual or tricky to spell/pronounce. Mainstream books are missing the mark with these young people.
Real kids and families
There was a time when personalising a kid’s book meant no more than adding their name to a standard narrative. A nice touch but just the simple manipulation of a variable text field.
Real personalisation now allows for unique books that hold up a mirror to the main character in the book. A photograph or avatar reflects the colour of their skin, sibling and parent names and relationship details, home setting, non-Latin character names, etc. all help make them the recognisable hero of their own story.
A personalised children’s book is always going to make a lovely gift, of course. Especially now when “normal” families come in so many different shapes and sizes, seeing themselves authentically represented in print has to be more engaging…even magical.