Our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures are shaped by the books we read and it is essential that children see a true reflection of our society in the literature recommended and available to them. An absence of an inclusive range of role models or characters in our books risks detering children from minority backgrounds from the joy and enrichment that a love of reading can bring.
The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature shows that 20% of children’s books published in 2021 feature a minority ethnic character, a significant increase from the 4% reported in 2017. The annual CLPE survey, which is funded by Arts Council England, launched in 2017 with the key focus of determining the extent and quality of ethnic minority characters featured within Picturebooks, Fiction and Non-Fiction for ages 3–11 published in the UK.
The five years of reporting provide benchmark statistics which have seen a sustained increase in the number and percentage of books that contain characters from racial minorities; a standard which is vital in ensuring all children have the opportunity to become readers by providing books where they can see themselves, their experience and the wider world reflected. The increase of representative titles published also corresponds with an increase in the presence of ethnic minority main characters, with 9% of the children’s books published in 2021 featuring minority ethnic main characters, up from 1% in 2017.
However, while this slow but positive growth is to be welcomed there remains a significant disparity between the demographic make up of story worlds compared to the world as actually experienced by young readers.
CEO of CLPE Louise Johns-Shepherd, said of the next steps: ‘We are delighted to see the upward trend in numbers, we are determined that it won’t be a ‘trend’ that disappears or that dips. We will continue to do this work and to support ongoing dialogue within the publishing industry because we believe in the power of children’s literature to change lives and we believe inclusive representative casts of characters in children’s literature make books better.’
Joseph Coelho, Waterstones Children’s Laureate said ‘As a Patron of CLPE I am incredibly proud to support the annual CLPE Reflecting Realities survey and to see the very real impact it has made to representation in children's books over the past 5 years. One of my goals as Waterstones Children's Laureate, Bookmaker Like You, aims to show every child that they too can be a bookmaker - the CLPE Reflecting Realities Report supports this aim by ensuring all children can see their world meaningfully reflected in the books they read.’
Albeit not as many as any of us would like, we do have some brilliant authors, illustrators and relevant literature to recommend enabling all children to find themselves reflected in books. We have curated an exciting and diverse list of books to help build understanding, empathy and tolerance of our different backgrounds and that also entertain and celebrate our rich, shared cultural heritage.
The books in our selection include a diverse cast, some actively teach about diversity and inclusion and others celebrate role models and historical figures in non-fiction titles. Many of the novels include diverse families without actively teaching about diversity and are great additions to every child's library. Scroll down for a selection of books that celebrate difference, suitable for toddlers to teens, catalogued in age order.
We will continuously update this category as we read and review new, relevant publications.