Reflecting Realities: Increasing representation in children's books

Posted on Friday, December 1, 2023
Category: News

Reflecting Realities: Increasing representation in children's books

The annual CLPE Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children's Literature shows a continued move towards inclusion and representation in books for children during 2022, particularly in fiction. However, the report also notes declines in representation in picture books and non-fiction; the first falls since 2017, when the survey began.

The latest report suggests that nearly one third (30%) of children's picturebooks, fiction and non-fiction titles published in 2022 featured racially minoritised characters, up from 20% last year. When CLPE published its first Reflecting Realities report in 2017, it found that only 4% of children's books reflected the diversity of our society.  There are also more racially minoritised characters taking lead roles in stories, up from 1% in 2017 to 14% in 2022.

Previous reports have welcomed the gains but cautioned that such fast growth over a short period could lead to complacency, but this year's report says, "To date, these concerns have not been actualised. We are very pleased to once again be reporting an increase in this regard and it is an improvement that we hope will continue to grow over time."

Graphic from the CLPE Reflecting Realities Report 2022 - Ben Cotteril (Designer) & Chanté Timothy (Illustrator)      

Representation varies across text types 

However, despite the continued growth in representation, not all text types have increased their representation.  Only fiction titles showed an increase in racially minoritised presence, up from 11% in 2021 to 24% in 2022, while there was a year-on-year decrease in presence for non-fiction and picturebooks. Minoritised representation in non-fiction dropped from 41% in 2021 to 30% in 2022, and in picturebooks from 61% to 52% year on year - the first time that there has been a fall in representation across all text types since 2017.

Meaningful representation

Farrah Serroukh, executive director of research and development at CLPE, welcomed the variation in the breadth of realities reflected in the books they surveyed. This year's report found that racially minoritised characters are represented in stories in multi-dimensional and nuanced ways, and that a wider range of genres, including fantasy, historical and comedy, now include minoritised characters.

However, the report also cautioned against "a seeming tentativeness" in a number of the titles reviewed. "[The reviewers'] encounters with racially minoritised characters in the fiction titles submitted in particular were often difficult to decipher. The limited textbased cues exacerbated the challenge of determining presence, which subsequently made it difficult to ascertain ... if the book could be classified as meaningfully representative and inclusive."

The report also examined the presence of racially minoritised characters across ethnic demographic groups in children's books. The increase seen was most notable in terms of characters coded as Black at 6.8%, with characters defined as coming from mixed heritage backgrounds making up the next largest ethnic group at 4.6%. However, the report adds, "Although we noted a small increase of presence of characters from South Asian backgrounds at 1.8%, the rate of growth is slow and still far behind the real-world figure reported as 9.3% in the latest UK Census."

The aim of the survey is to understand the extent and quality of representation of racially minoritised characters featured within children's books across aged three to 11, and published in the UK. Using this data, publishers have been encouraged to make more representative and inclusive children's books available to children and families. 

Reflecting Realities in the Classroom

CLPE's Reflecting Realities in the Classroom, which will be published by Sage in April 2024, will investigate how engagement with inclusive literature positively impacts school reading cultures and will provide practical support for teachers to explore quality representation in the classroom.

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