Saturday, 13 September 2014

Diversity in children's books

has been under discussion in a number of places recently - largely because of some comments made by the current UK Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman.
She made the comment in a tweet that the lack of diversity in children's books means "some of our children believe they can't be in stories. It was followed up by a comment from Roopa Farooki, "We find ourselves in fiction."
We find other people too - or we should.
I tried thinking back to the books I read as a child. Someone said "yes, mostly white and middle class I suppose".
Actually, no. I remember books with working class characters - Eve Garnett's "The family from One End Street" stands out. So does Blue Willow by Doris Gates and Lois Lenski's Judy's Journey. The Road to Agra by Aimee Sommerfelt was another.
And there were Australian books by Nan Chauncy, Hesba Brinsmead, Ivan Southall, Colin Thiele and Eleanor Spence. Working class characters appear in books by all these writers and many other writers as well - and they appear as themselves, as a natural part of the story.
Perhaps there was a point where we forgot about these books. They went out of print. People started to write about other things - about "issues" rather than the characters.
A refugee I know who was used, in part, as the basis of a character in a book which has been published told me, "(the author) thinks it is right but it wasn't like that at all". The book was praised as "realistic" - by white, middle class people. What would they know?
It is the same with disability. There are many more books about disability than there are about race, religion or nationality. Far too many of them are sentimental tripe - all too often with the character miraculously recovering. Perhaps that is why they get published so often when books about race, religion and nationality don't get published as often.
You can't "recover" from race, religion, nationality or most disabilities. Perhaps it is time to celebrate these things instead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy endings are important especially in Mills and Boons, and who-done-it style books need to answer the question of who did it., but children and grown ups need stories which closer reflect real life. A happy ending in Mills and Boons means that every one has all they could dream about, but in real life, and books about real life, we need to have something left to wish and hope for in the future, including living with whatever problems cannot be wished away.