Tag archives: Letterbox Library

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Inclusion and diversity in children’s books and why they matter- recent articles

Harry Roberts NurseryI loved giving inset at Harry Roberts Nursery with Letterbox Library last week. There were great discussions about why diversity and inclusion are important in children’s books. As participants said, children need books that reflect their lives and experiences and help them understand themselves, and books that give them an insight into other people and their lives. Inclusive books are fabulous for personal and emotional development and for empathy. The photo shows some of the participants, and me, with a few of the wonderful books we explored during the day. (The nursery received a big boxful of inclusive books as part of the training package.) I’ve blogged about diversity and inclusion several times before. Lots of excellent articles have been published since the last time.

Do read author SF Said on whether children’s books can change the world.’Books can help transcend “us and them”. Fiction lets us experience another existence as if it was our own.’

Librarian and author Dawn Finch makes lots of excellent points in Why are we still talking about diversity and inclusion?.

Why do so many children’s books treat diversity as a black and white issue? is important and useful. ‘Writing more religious and ethnic minority characters in itself is not enough’, argues teen blogger Safah. ‘We need books embracing all aspects of these different cultures and lifestyles.’

In The many faces of diversity Candy Gourlay explores the issues she and other children’s authors face in attempting to be inclusive. ‘Are we doing it right? Are we offending anyone by not including/including a character who is ‘other’ in our stories? Who is allowed to write about other cultures/races/sexual orientations?’

It’s also well worth reading author Ravinder Randhawa on The challenge of writing British-Asian characters.

Have a look too at Julia Eccleshare’s suggestions for books that explore stereotypes and prejudice. (And don’t forget Letterbox Library for good books on all sorts of diversity issues.)

Teen author Non Pratt tells us no taboo should be off limits when writing for teenagers. ‘Violence, swearing, sex, drinking, mental illness… teen/YA lit has had it all for over 40 years’.

Gender representation in children’s books has been a huge issue for as many years as I’ve been involved with them, first as a librarian and then a trainer, and no doubt long before that too. Jennie Yabroff has written a valuable piece asking why there are still so few girls in children’s books, and looking at the implications.

Author Susie Day considers the lack of coverage of disability in children’s books. In the 80s, when she was growing up, ‘disability in books was a cautionary tale where you’d usually ‘recover’ if you were nice enough. Times have changed and children’s lit needs to catch up faster.’

Finally a picture montage of disability inclusive books that should be available in English.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The importance of inclusion and diversity in children’s and young people’s books

IMG_2294A big thank you to Anna McQuinn, creator of the wonderful Lulu books and Alanna Books, to Sufiya Ahmed, author of the fantastic Secrets of the Henna Girl, to James Dawson, who writes amazing books for teenagers, and to Barbara Ferramosca of CILIP School Libraries Group for inspiring me to return to the vital topic of inclusion and diversity in books for children and young people.

A couple of weeks ago Anna devised a fabulous set of inclusive children’s book laws. These are among my favourites:

  • All children would have a right to see themselves and their experiences reflected in the books they read, as well as having books which open up new worlds, real and imaginary.
  • Anyone saying they don’t need inclusive books because their [delete as appropriate] library/shop/school doesn’t have children ‘like that’, will be invited to remove any other book featuring something they don’t have locally – so into the skip go any books with bears, tigers, elephants, penguins, camels, tarantulas, dinosaurs, mammoths, volcanoes, monsters, gremlins, hobbits.
  • Every collection of books (whether in a bookshop, library, school or playgroup) would include as wide a range of characters, settings and plots as imaginably possible.
  • Books whose main character has a disability/is from a minority group/is gay or transgender will NOT be in a special section or on a special shelf with ‘other issue books’.

IMG_2281That got me started. Then at the weekend I attended a brilliant meet-the-author afternoon organised by the SLG, and talked to lots of inspiring librarians and writers. I was delighted to meet up again with Anna and with Sufiya (flanked here by Tamsyn Murray and Paul Crooks). It was great to discuss inclusion with both of them, and with Barbara, who raised the issue of diversity training with me.

Just this week James Dawson produced an invaluable list of inclusive YA titles.

For more book recommendations, check out these suggestions from authors.

Letterbox Library‘s knowledge of inclusive books is second to none. They’ve been supplying them to libraries, schools and individuals for over 30 years, and have very useful themed book lists. I love working with them on training.

Inclusive Minds campaigns for inclusion in children’s publishing. Alex Strick, one of its founders, has recently written about attitudes to learning disability and how children’s books can help.

School libarians will find the School Library Journal issue on diversity very useful.

Finally, here is SF Said, author of Varjak Paw, in ‘Books showed me it was all right to be different’: ‘Today’s young readers come from so many different backgrounds. And they’re hungry for stories about this new world that’s coming into being: the world in which we’re all connected, in which we all have a stake, and in which difference can be a source of richness, not something to be feared.’

Monday, 10 November 2014

IBBY UK/NCRCL conference on inclusion and diversity in children’s books

I always find the IBBY UK/NCRCL conferences extremely interesting and valuable, and Saturday’s one on the theme of belonging was particularly good. From the opening slide we were exploring how we can ensure that children have access to books that are mirrors in which they can see reflections of their own lives and windows to help them understand other people’s lives.

IMG_1239Anna McQuinn, author of the Lulu books, talked about the damage that bias in children’s books and the lack of inclusive books inflict on children. Like a number of subsequent speakers, she insisted that it is not enough for publishers to include the odd token black character, and that issue-led books are not the answer. This is not about political correctness, but about the need for books that reflect the reality of children’s lives. She gave us a fascinating potted history of attempts since the 70s to increase diversity in children’s publishing, and her own involvement. It was especially interesting to hear the economic arguments for inclusive books. Anna posed the question: why are we still having to discuss this topic? We must ensure, she said, that we are not still debating it in ten years’ time. This was her final slide – a call to arms.
IMG_1242Story-teller Richard O’Neill was next up, talking about the importance of story, and entertaining us with some great tales from his childhood living in a caravan. It was wonderful hearing from him on and off throughout the day.

Alex Strick of Inclusive Minds focused on disability. She pointed out some publisher pitfalls, including gimmicks, tokenism, assumptions and stereotypes. A good inclusive book, she told us, is never issue-led, but is characterised by a great story; fully rounded characters; incidental, natural representation of disability or other issues; authenticity based on research. The authenticity of She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick is a direct result of his visits to a school for blind students. Alex gave us the social model of disability: it is not an individual’s impairment that disables them: rather it is society. So it is society that needs to change, not the individual.

IMG_1245We heard next about the need for books that validate refugee children’s experiences and develop other children’s understanding. Discourses of pity are not helpful; the focus should be on resilience. Julia Hope researched the impact of The Colour of Home and The Other Side of Truth. (How wonderful to hear Beverley Naidoo read the opening paragraphs.) We learnt the importance of good teaching to help children explore this issue. I found two points Julia made very striking: first, that there is a strong taboo that stops children using the term refugees of themsleves, and second that some boys derived enjoyment from the section of The Colour of Home where guns are used. This is not an easy issue for teachers to deal with, and they need support.

IMG_1248This year’s international IBBY conference was in Mexico. The UK delegates gave it a rave review.

IMG_1250I was delighted to give a presentation after lunch on looked-after children’s reading, based on my article on this. LAC’s reading attainment is often well behind that of their peers. They need lots of support to find enjoyment in reading. Just like other children, they deserve books that reflect their lives and books that help them understand others. They also deserve books and other reading materials that are purely entertaining and that match their interests.

IMG_1251It was great to share my session with head teacher and adoptive mother Sarah Stokes, who was fascinating on the topic of appropriate books for adopted children. The Red Thread is her family’s number one favourite.

Candy Gourlay’s session was highly amusing as well as very illuminating. We heard about her childhood in the Philippines. She loved reading, but none of the books she read featured children like her. It was only very many years later, when she saw the cover of Hacker by Malorie Blackman, that she realised that children’s books with non-white children were even a possibility. I found her term ‘casual diversity’ a very helpful one to ponder. These were Candy’s opening and closing slides.

IMG_1252IMG_1256Sarah Garland, Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith were very good to listen to. All are published by Frances Lincoln, and love the fact that this is a publisher that strives for inclusivity, so they have rarely if ever had any ideas turned down. They have though had the occasional vitriolic response to their books from American evangelicals, and a previous publisher objected to the pictures of the mixed-race couple in Billy and Belle in bed together. Sarah stood her ground. All expressed admiration for libraries and independent booksellers who stock their books. (Like many others, they lavished praise on Letterbox Library, who had an array of wonderful inclusive books for sale at the conference.)

IMG_1258Beverley Naidoo rounded off the day in inspiring fashion. She reiterated the damage done by the paucity of diverse publishing over many decades, and reminded us about some ground-breaking books. She returned to the theme of belonging, the title of the conference. Children need to feel they belong. But they also need to know that sometimes it is important not to belong: not to collude with wrongs that people around you are committing. It’s the theme of her powerful book Burn My Heart.IMG_1260An amazing – if exhausting – day. And lovely to catch up with lots of colleagues and friends as well as gaining some great new acquaintances. Apologies that my photos do the conference scant justice.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Reading in the early years – inspiring a love of books and reading

IMG_0165It’s a long time since I’ve blogged about young children’s reading. I’ve been thinking about the topic because I’ve been getting lots of requests for training on reading in the early years recently. (By reading in the early years, I most certainly do not mean trying to make children into decoders at the age of 3 or 4. I mean helping children towards a love of books and the spoken and written word.)

I stress the spoken word because we know that without a strong grounding in speaking and listening it is almost impossible for children to thrive with reading. I find it unbearably sad that that very many babies and young children don’t receive the one-to-one interactions they need for language development. Just have a look at this to see that talking to babies matters. The Talk to Your Baby site is a great source of information. Universally Speaking has very useful information on how and when young children develop language skills between birth and 5.

Reading to children is the most powerful thing any parent or carer – or indeed early years practitioner – can do to develop a love of reading. ‘Children are made readers on the laps of their parents’, in the words of Emilie Buchwald. US paediatricians are having a huge push on reading to young children. They say reading to babies and children ‘helps immunise them against illiteracy’. Net Mums have produced some top tips for reading with 2 year olds and with 3 year-olds. Routes to Reading is another useful source of video clips and good ideas. Bookstart has loads of strategies for inspiring a love of books.

For anyone looking for a good source of inclusive books for early years (and older) children, I can’t recommend Letterbox Library highly enough.

The last few years have seen an enormous growth in e-reading resources for young children. These are all interesting discussions on the issue:

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Diversity in children’s books

The Little Rebels Books Award ceremony last weekend and several interesting current Twitter discussions have made me realise a few links to organisations and articles promoting diversity in children’s books would be useful.

letterboxLetterbox Library is invaluable: booksellers who for over thirty years have provided schools, pre-schools, libraries, parents, carers and children with books that celebrate equality and diversity. They are true experts and their stock is amazing. Twitter users will find them at @LetterboxLib.

inclusive mindsInclusive Minds campaigns for inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature. Alexandra Strick and Beth Cox who founded it both have huge experience in this field. It’s well worth subscribing to their mailing list and following them on Twitter (@stricolo and @WException).

Last month Woman’s Hour hosted an important discussion about racial diversity in children’s books (11 minutes in).

Guardian Children’s Books is running a themed week on children’s, teenage and YA LGBT books. There are lots of great articles and discussions.

My older blogs on diversity issues can be found here.