Only 1% of children’s books have BAME main characters – UK study

Only 1% of British children’s books feature a main character who is black or minority ethnic, a investigation into representations of people of colour has found, with the director calling the findings “stark and shocking”. The Guardian reports.

In a research project that is the first of its kind, and funded by Arts Council England, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) asked UK publishers to submit books featuring BAME characters in 2017. Of the 9,115 children’s books published last year, researchers found that only 391 – 4% – featured BAME characters. Just 1% had a BAME main character, and a quarter of the books submitted only featured diversity in their background casts.

This compares to the 32.1% of schoolchildren of minority ethnic origins in England identified by the Department of Education last year.

The researchers also analysed the quality of the representation, as well as the quantity of BAME characters. They found that more than half the books featuring a BAME character were classed as “contemporary realism”, and 10% contained “social justice” issues, such as war and conflict. Only one children’s book featuring a BAME character was defined as comedy.

“Topics such as conflict and the refugee experience are valid subjects for authors to explore and unpick. Our concern would be if children only encounter ethnic minority representation in that context and no other,” said Farrah Serroukh, who directed the project for the CLPE and presented it to publishers on Monday. “We need books like that, but they need to sit within a wider diet of books so readers can appreciate that people from minority backgrounds have as much variety of life as everyone else – yes, there is struggle, but there is also going to the dentist, going to the supermarket. It’s striking a balance.”

Author Nikesh Shukla, who has been a major force behind the push for diversity in UK publishing, sat on a steering committee for CLPE’s report.

“I do feel the industry is getting better but a report like this is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done – and a stark reminder of our readers, and how our readers are not getting what they need,” he said

Like a long-running equivalent survey in the US from the University of Wisconsin-Madison – which has charted a slow increase in BAME characters over the last decade and a half – the CLPE report is intended to be annual. A separate piece of research, by the BookTrust, is also currently under way, examining the number of authors and illustrators of colour working in children’s publishing. The BookTrust findings are due in September.

Read the full article Only 1% of children’s books have BAME main characters – UK study

How many books featuring BAME main characters has your class/child read this year? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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