Diversity in children’s literature matters. The books we are read at a young age – and those that we read to ourselves as kids – have an immeasurable impact, not just on how we engage with literature, but also, fundamentally, how we see ourselves. It is hard to overstate, then, how important it is that young readers get to see characters that represent them on the page and that celebrate them for who they are, rather than presenting a homogenous idea of the children that get to be characters in books.

The world is, thankfully, a gloriously diverse place: it’s important that the characters we create for children reflect that. And since books are so vital a resource for learning about both the world around us and that beyond our immediate horizon, through their pages we can teach children different world views, how to be open and inclusive and why it matters.

Here are some great publishers and bookshops that focus on creating and selling inclusive books, as well as a round-up of a few of our favourite books.

Diverse Publishers And Bookshops

Letterbox Library
Letterbox Library

Letterbox Library is a bookseller whose founding mission is to celebrate equality and diversity. As it explains, ‘we specialise in books in which all children can see themselves and which reflect our world community in all of its diversity.’ A not-for-profit social enterprise, it has been operating for thirty years, drafting in children and teachers who read and choose every book it sells.

Expect everything from board books to offerings for reluctant readers, as well as ‘book packs’; the latter contains selections of books that come under categories such as ‘no outsiders’ and ‘challenging discrimination and countering hatred.’ Crucially, it says that inclusivity isn’t enough; the stories must be excellent to make it into the Letterbox Library. Explore its wonderful selection of books here.

Lantana Publishing
Lantana Publishing

CEO and founder Alice Curry set up Lantana Publishing after her nephew was born. She was concerned that, as a mixed-race child, he should grow up with representations on the page that reflected him. In following that very personal ambition, she was also, of course, addressing the universal. After all, despite one third of school children coming from BAME backgrounds, only a woeful five per cent of books feature characters that reflect this, and only two per cent of authors are black, Asian or minority ethnic. The statistics may be dire, but Lantana is determined to help redress the imbalance. You can buy book bundles, which are themed along lines such as ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Empathy’ and ‘Celebrating Asia’. The books have been shortlisted for a litany of awards, including the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal and you can explore the selection here.

Knights Of
Knights Of

‘We’re making books for every kid,’ says the tagline on Knights Of’s website. This is a publisher who specialises in brilliantly told commercial fiction that explores as many different perspectives as possible. Sounds obvious, right? Especially when children pick up so much of their world view from the books they read. Well the statistics say otherwise.

Thankfully, founders Aimée Felone and David Stevens have an abiding interest in the stories that have traditionally not been told in children’s publishing; stories of BAME lives; stories of LGBTQ+ lives; stories of disability; and stories of refugees. If you have a story you want to pitch, they’re all ears. And in the name of shaking up the publishing industry, you submit your idea via live chat. An exciting company doing things differently. Find our more about their titles and ethos here.

Knights Of also hit the headlines with its crowd-funded Brixton pop-up book shop campaign – thankfully it has smashed its target, and is now raising money for more inclusive and diverse bookshops around the country. You can read all about it and donate here.

Willesden Bookshop
Willesden Bookshop

The Willesden Green Library Centre was a local institution for the twenty-three years it was there. Although, despite a hard-fought battle, the site has now been demolished, The Willesden Bookshop still sells through its sister shop in Highgate and through its website, which you can browse here. It has a special section for diverse books, with thematic collections. As it explains: ‘Our choice of books includes many unusual and imported titles and has developed from our long association with north west London – one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the city – and we strive to provide books which are inclusive and celebrate the rich cultures and languages of this community.’ The Willesden Bookshop supplies schools and libraries, as well as individuals and, though there’s no escaping that the site itself is clunky and old-fashioned, the selection of books most certainly is not.

Diverse Children’s Books

There are increasing numbers of diverse books across a range of themes to explore. Here are a few of our favourites.

Baby Goes To Market (Walker Books)
Baby Goes To Market

By Atinuke, £6.99

Atinuke’s story about a baby exploring the sights and sounds of a bustling African market is perfect for early years readers, with lots of fun counting and food naming elements to focus on. That it is set in a busy mega African city is a great way of sharing with young children amazing corners of the world that may not resemble their own. You can buy it, now available in board book format, here.

The Drum (Tiny Owl)
The Drum

By Ken Wilson-Max, £9.99

Have you got a young music lover on your hands? The Drum, by acclaimed author and artist Ken Wilson-Max, explores instruments from across the world. Not only is it a great opportunity for your children to learn about the music of other cultures, it also prompts you to clap and dance along rhythmically to different beats – the perfect activity for supporting cognitive and sensory development.

High Rise Mystery (Knights Of)
High Rise Mystery

By Sharna Jackson, £5.99

Does your teenager love a whodunnit but find themselves wondering why they all seem to be set in country houses and vicarages? Sharna Jackson’s detective duo, Nik and Norva, hunt for clues over a sweltering London summer, all centring around theTri, a high rise on their home turf. This is a brilliant pair of sleuths that we’ll be following throughout their no doubt ensuing adventures. Buy it here.

What Happened To You (Faber & Faber)
What Happened To You Book

By James Catchpole, £6.99

Inclusivity does not, of course, solely apply to race. It encompasses embracing all of our cultural and physical differences, including disability. James Catchpole’s soon-to-be-released What Happened To You, which is available to pre order here, is the story of Joe, a little boy who is fed up with being seen first for his disability and understandably just wants to play without being questioned about it all the time. This promises to be an excellent read. And if you want to find out more about James Catchpole, check out our Insta Hero story here.

All Are Welcome (Bloomsbury)
By Alexandra Penfold, £6.99

This wonderful book envisages a school in which everyone – from children in patkas, hijabs to baseball caps to yarmulkes – are all wholly accepting and supportive of one another. The writing is beautiful; the message even more so.

Stories For South Asian Supergirls (Kashi House Publishing)
Stories For South Asian Supergirls

By Raj Kaur Khaira, £12.99

This wonderful book celebrates the lives of fifty amazing women from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. All beautifully illustrated, the cast of characters takes in the diverse likes of entertainers such as Jameela Jamil and Meera Syal to business leaders such as Indra Nooyi, Anjali Sud, Ruchi Sanghvi, right through to the British Muslim spy Noor Inayat Khan and activist Jayaben Desai. The book aims to rewrite the stereotypes of Asian women that abound in the media and ties in with the work of the author’s charity, Pink Ladoo, which challenges gender bias the and under-representation of South Asian women. A brilliant, brilliant and empowering book.

By Nancy Alsop
July 2020


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