Reflecting Realities in children's books

Posted on Thursday, November 4, 2021
Category: News

Reflecting Realities in children's books

The annual CLPE Reflecting Realities Survey reports an increase in minority representation in children's books for 4th consecutive year.

The number of children's books featuring a minority ethnic character is growing, from 10% in 2019 to 15% in 2020. This is a significant increase in minority representation in children's books from the 4% reported in the inaugural report in 2017.

However, while there has been a significant increase in minority representation in Picture Books and Non-Fiction, the percentage of characters from a minority ethnic background in Fiction remains static.

The CLPE survey, which is funded by Arts Council England, identifies and evaluates representation within Picture Books, Fiction and Non-Fiction for ages 3-11. It also reports that 8% of the books published in 2020 featured an ethnic minority main character, up from 1% in 2017.

In the four years since its launch, the Reflecting Realities Survey has had a significant impact, helping to ensure that all children have the opportunity to see themselves represented in the books they read. The survey provides a benchmark to track and understand progress and also provides a 'toolkit' to support publishers and educators in the move towards more inclusive literature.  

There is still some way to go before UK children's books more accurately reflect the reality of the school population of England, but the speed of change in representation over the last few years suggests that the survey has a tangible impact across the publishing, charity and literature sectors.

Researching the impact of representative literature

CLPE has also announced that, following its research programme, it will work with 10 schools to support the reading journeys of 300 pupils across a three-year period to test what happens when children have the opportunity to engage with quality representative literature. It will use the results to track the impact of quality, representative literature on their reading and writing. The initial findings from this work will be published by Sage in a new book from CLPE in 2023.

CLPE's CEO Louise Johns-Shepherd, said, "We can see that, across the industry, there are real and concerted efforts to change the quality of pictures, descriptions and stories of people from racialized minorities." However, she added, "We are not yet at the point where children of colour have the same experience of literature as their white peers. The survey shows us that work is still needed."

As well as looking at representation of characters, Johns-Shepherd said, "We need to look at who gets to write and illustrate the books; where the opportunities in the publishing industry are; who chooses what gets published, marketed, publicised, stocked and sold - all of these things go towards making a change to what actually gets into bookshops, libraries, classrooms and homes."

Read the full report, CLPE's Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children's Literature