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Call for more diversity in kids’ books

14 August 20140 comments
ILAB Books

Copyright: ILAB Books

Children’s books published in Britain still don’t reflect the cultural diversity of the country’s children and would-be authors, according to leading children’s writer Malorie Blackman.

Ms Blackman’s own best-known books, the Noughts and Crosses trilogy, tackle racism, teenage sex and terrorism – challenging stereotypes by showing white-skinned characters subjected to prejudices and restrictions.

She has been criticised in the media for a sympathetic portrayal of a suicide bomber in the final part of the trilogy, “Checkmate“, released shortly before suicide bomb attacks killed 52 people on London public transport in 2005.

She responded by saying that those who criticised her had not read the books, and if they had, they would realise that the books help people understand motivations, not condone them.

“Very, very few picture books are published in this country that feature children of colour,” Blackman told media recently.

“We might have dogs, cats, rabbits, puppies, but when it comes to children, very few featuring different ethnicities are published.”

Blackman became Britain’s Children’s Laureate in 2013 after librarians, booksellers and children voted online to award her the position.

The role champions children’s literature and past holders include Julia Donaldson, author of the Gruffalo, and illustrator Quentin Blake.

Blackman says she wants more new authors from ethnic minorities to get their books published in Britain.

“I can reel off the name of about 10 or 15 black and minority ethnic authors in the UK, but I should be able to reel off a hell of a lot more,” she said

She said that when she started writing, she was told that white children wouldn’t want to read books that featured black characters.

“Even now, a narrow focus on the bottom line by publishers in recent years has made it hard for authors from different ethnic backgrounds to become established,” Ms Blackman said.

“When I started 24 years ago, there was more leeway to go with the potential of the author, where they could stick with an author for a two or three book contract. Now your (first) book has to hit the ground running and prove itself, so you have less chance to establish yourself.”

Her latest book, “Noble Conflict”, was inspired by the leaking of sensitive secret government cables by Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden.

“We’re all told not to tell tales, but if you are told (about) something that your society is doing is wrong, do you blow the whistle?” she said.

“I try to ask these questions and … have teens trying to decide and discuss what they would do.”