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#Herewestand - why we're calling for more diverse books
Published on: 14 March 2017
Sita Brahmachari - children's and YA author, and previous BookTrust Writer in Residence - will be one of the judges on this year's Amnesty Honour, awarded to a children's book from either the Carnegie or Greenaway shortlist. Here, she talks about why we must represent and recognise diversity in children's books.
The children's book world is a wide, diverse and interconnected family - including commercial publishing, education, schools and library services.
In turn, there are international and diverse books on this year's CILIP Carnegie Medal longlist that will open children's and young adults' vision of the world up to some truly great stories. But, as many people in publishing have noted, there is no representation of BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) writers on this year's list.
So, many of us across the publishing sector will welcome the announcement of CILIP's independently chaired review of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals as part of the organisation's wider Equality and Diversity Action Plan, investigating all aspects of inclusion and diversity.
Sita Brahmachari with ‘Reading Hacks’ at Watford Library in an event for The Reading Agency, March 2017
Hold up a mirror, include diverse voices
The Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are not alone in society in recognising the need to investigate all aspects of diversity, inequality and inclusion. Concerns specifically around BAME representation in publishing were highlighted in the 2015 Writing the Future report and have been widely explored in relation to all aspects of diversity through organisations such as Inclusive Minds.
It is my hope that this in-depth review will continue a 'listening project' that is beginning to happen across all sectors of publishing, and continue a gathering of the diverse voices in children's publishing. Ideally, it will work towards a common goal of greater equality and access to stories for children and young adults - stories that hold a mirror up to the diverse society in which we live, and include those diverse voices.
Represent young minds and hearts
It's hard to measure the depth of impact a lack of representation can have on young minds and hearts, but I felt this lack deeply growing up.
I had to wait to discover the likes of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Anita Desai, and the complex feelings around that lack of representation of my identity this left in me is part of the reason I write now.
The children's and YA publishing sector has the possibility to offer future generations of young people the chance to grow up in books where all children's lives and stories are reflected, as well as having the opportunity to step into worlds unknown.
In the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, specialist librarians have created a channel for generations of young people to be offered a lifelong love of reading and opportunity. The CILIP diversity review and subsequent action plan could have a revolutionary impact on the tens of thousands of diverse young readers for whom the Carnegie shadowing and selection process can offer a life-changing experience.
It could also have a far-reaching effect on greater representation in publishing; from this newly tilled soil may grow the voices of the future.
Amnesty Honour: opening up new channels
Last year, I contributed a story in Amnesty's human rights anthology Here I Stand with a gloriously diverse and talented cohort of contemporary writers, who, in my mind, reflect just a small selection of the broad family of authors who make up children's literature.
At a launch event with fellow author Bali Rai and poet Amy Leon, I commented that it was the first time I had ever sat on a panel and not been asked to speak about diversity. It was such a joy and great freedom to speak of our stories and poems, and it is this freedom and ease of representation for all of us that I hope the CILIP investigation will eventually lead to become the norm.
I believe that, in the future, the Amnesty Honour, with its focus on human rights, will make a significant contribution to this diversity and equality investigation. I'm looking forward to joining the diverse panel of judges for the Amnesty Honour in reading the extraordinary stories selected. However, I stand with many others in believing that, this year, some of the best stories for children - stories written by BAME writers - have not entered that channel.
Our willingness to reflect on the impact of the lack of diversity of representation matters deeply to everyone in the children's book family.
Most importantly, it matters to our children.
See the book
Various authors, Illustrated by Chris Riddell
These short stories by writers such as Sita Brahmachari, Matt Haig and Frances Harding, with illustration by Chris Riddell, put current and continuing political situations in context for young people. Not an easy read, but a necessary one.