We were privileged last evening to attend an interesting event hosted by Lewes Children’s Book Group. Our own children’s literature expert, Laura, who usually writes these blog posts, organised and introduced a fantastic panel discussion on the theme of inclusivity in children’s books.
Daniel Hahn chaired the discussion, and kept the conversation rolling along will some searching questions. Daniel is best-known as the editor of the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. He also contributes to book guides, such as the Ultimate Book Guides, an award-winning series of reading guides for children and teenagers, and translates children’s literature into English from various languages. He has written books for adults, and for children (including the madcap picture book, Happiness is a watermelon on your head, illustrated by Stella Dreis).
The panelists were Candy Gourlay, author; Rob Green, editor of Pen & Inc.; and Jonny Pryn of One Third Stories. Candy is from the Philippines, and told us about growing up with an absence of people like herself in the children’s books available to her. Books for youngsters were published in the UK or USA, and featured white, often blond, European protagonists, in settings quite unlike her own. This led her to believe that people like her couldn’t write books. And, indeed, when she came to the UK, and turned her hand to writing, she struggled to get published. The panel discussed the problems of writing and, crucially, of getting into print in a UK publishing milieu still today dominated by white, middle class graduates. The much-praised publisher, David Fickling, eventually took Candy on, and her 2018 YA novel, Bone Talk, was shortlisted for both the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Carnegie Medal.
Rob Green edits Pen & Inc., a journal focusing on diversity and inclusion in children’s books, and has been heavily involved in the library and children’s literature worlds. Pen & Inc. is new – just two issues old so far – and published in response to the dearth of representations of diversity in children’s books at all levels (lead characters, meaningful supporting characters, and authors and illustrators).
Laura has written here previously about the important work done by CLPE around the Reflecting
Realities research and reports. Pen & Inc. aims to feature one established author and one up-and-coming author in each edition. It shares leads and information about, and listings of, books with a focus on diversity, inclusion and representation. Pen & Inc. is available for you to read in the Curriculum Centre. Do take a look. Take all the help you can get to build positive changes through the books you use with your pupils.
Jonny Pryn explained the inspiration behind his mold-breaking initiative, One Third Stories. The mission is to put another language on every child’s bookshelf and stems from the belief that every child should grow up with the chance to be bilingual. One Third Stories aims to start a language learning revolution through stories that start in English and end in a different language.
With such breadth and depth of experience and expertise on the panel, we enjoyed a lively, thought-proving and informative discussion. Lewes Children’s Book Group aims to put on more of these events. We will flag them up on this blog and in the Curriculum Centre, and I would urge you to go along. They are free, and everyone is made very welcome.