Children’s books show rise in racially minoritised characters, survey finds | Books

Children’s books show rise in racially minoritised characters, survey finds | Books

Thirty per cent of children’s books published last year featured racially minoritised characters, according to new research.

The sixth report on racial representation in children’s literature by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), titled Reflecting Realities, found a 26-point rise in the percentage of titles featuring racially minoritised characters since the survey was first conducted in 2017, when the figure was 4%. This has gradually risen over the past six years, from 7% in 2018 to 10% in 2019, to 15% in 2020 and 20% in 2021.

“We welcome the increase in overall output and were pleased to encounter more variation in the breadth of realities reflected in the literature we reviewed,” said Farrah Serroukh, CLPE’s executive director of research and development. “We encourage publishers and creatives to build on the traction of recent years and continue to strive towards improving the volume and quality of titles that meaningfully reflect realities available to young readers.”

The charity reviewed 3,195 picture books, fiction and non-fiction titles aimed at three- to 11-year-olds that were published in the UK in 2022. The report, published on Thursday, found that the percentage of children’s books that featured a main character from a racially minoritised background has increased to 14%, compared with 9% in 2021, 8% in 2020, 5% in 2019, 4% in 2018 and 1% in 2017.

It also found that 87% of characters from racially minoritised backgrounds who formed part of a main cast influenced the narrative through their expression of thought, voice or action, up from the 38% figure reported in the 2017 survey. Eighteen per cent of the titles reviewed featured a protagonist who spoke about their ethnicity and whose ethnicity formed the basis of a plot point, representing an increase of 1% since the previous report.

However, among the reviewed texts, “at times textual cues were very surface level and vague, for example with ethnicity solely being alluded to through the name of a character or a throwaway reference to a food item”, reads the report. “This made it challenging to decipher presence and in other instances the role allocation felt tokenistic or formulaic.”

Black characters made up 6.8% of characters in the books reviewed, and characters from mixed heritage backgrounds made up the next largest ethnic group at 4.6%. Characters from south Asian backgrounds represented 1.8% of those reviewed, which lags behind the real-world figure of 9.3% reported in the latest UK census.

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The report also highlights a number of examples of books featuring racially minoritised characters, such as JoJo & Gran Gran Go to the Hairdresser by Laura Henry-Allain. The hair salon visit “normalises, celebrates and elevates Black hair and beauty in a way that has traditionally very rarely occurred in UK children’s literature in this way”, reads the report. “Subject matter that fundamentally serves to reflect the realities of many young Black readers and should be an average encounter in this instance still remains ground-breaking within the UK context.”

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