In a week when our children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman,
received an outpouring of racist abuse after calling for more diversity in
children’s books Paula Rawsthorne says that the haters have inadvertently helped
to raise the profile of this important issue.
Sky News was wrong and unprofessional to label Malorie’s interview
with an inaccurate, inflammatory headline quoting her as saying children’s
books “Have too many white faces”.Sky
apologized and changed the headline to “Call
for more diversity in kids’ books” but the damage was done and Malorie
still received abuse on the Sky website and through twitter.
What Malorie Blackman was saying was hardly radical or
inflammatory and the subsequent abuse is a disgrace but it has led to more
articles and debate about this issue and the widespread support for her reinforces
to me that the haters are in a tiny minority.
A call for more diversity shouldn’t be controversial.Of course we need to see more diversity and
inclusion in books, not just in ethnicity but representing kids from all walks and
ways of life.This isn’t political
correctness, it’s just makes sense for stories to reflect the world around us and
it’s only right that children get to see characters that they can identify with.
I’m a white woman but in my books I have significant black
characters. Why?Well, why not?I write contemporary fiction that reflects
the society we live in, it’s been appropriate for my stories and yes, it does
unsettle me that there are groups of children who don’t often see people like themselves
represented in books.
Although it’s great
seeing diversity and inclusion in books it shouldn’t ever be about ticking
boxes.The primary aim of a story is to
entertain. ‘Diverse’ characters aren’t
there to act as role models or teach the reader lessons.‘Diverse’ characters should feel as real as
any other creation in a book and that means that they should be an integral
part of the plot, fully rounded and multifaceted, not caricatures or patronisingly
portrayed as saints who can do no wrong.
I once had a conversation with someone in publishing who was
uncomfortable that one of the ‘baddies’ in my story happened to be black.She said that it could send out the wrong message.I was rather taken aback and pointed out that
the main ‘baddie’ in the story happened to be a white bloke (and the ‘heroine’
happened to be mixed race). These
creations weren’t ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ by virtue of the colour of their skin.Their actions and behaviour were character
led, not colour led. It seems dishonest and unrealistic to portray any
non-white characters as paragons of goodness for the sake of political
Having more diversity of characters in literature isn’t just
beneficial for the kids who don’t often see themselves represented in books but
also for kids who have little contact
and experience of other cultures,
beliefs and ways of life.Stories involving diversity gives us a window
into other people’s lives and, very importantly, shows us how similar we
are.(See my Edge post on the
ability of stories to allow readers to walk in someone else’s shoes here
When I look at my kids and their friends, their
differences don’t seem to be an issue for them.The fact that they may be different colours, abled
bodied or less abled bodied, religious or no religion, isn’t even commented on
because it’s of little significance to them. They’re just friends with loads in
common, having a good time.So how odd that
when these kids pick up most books a proportion of them suddenly find themselves invisible.
So I say, ignore the tiny minority of bigots who respond
with abuse to calls for more diversity and inclusion in children’s books.What Malorie Blackman is asking for is just common
sense; it will help stories reflect the world we live in and, in so doing, make
it a better place for everyone.