A U.K. Study Made A Disappointing Discovery About The Characters In Children's Books

"EVERYONE benefits from proper representation."

A new study examined U.K. children's books and made a disappointing discovery about representation. As the Guardian reports, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education found that only 4 percent of children's books published in the U.K. last year featured characters of color, and only 1 percent featured a person of color as a main character.

These numbers are a huge problem when compared to the statistic that 32.1 percent of schoolchildren in England last year were of an ethnic minority background. The subject matter of the books that did feature characters of color was also problematic, in that more than half were "contemporary realism" and 10 percent contained issues of "social justice," while only one was a comedy.

"Do those from minority backgrounds only have a platform when their suffering is being explored?" the report asked. Farrah Serroukh, the director of the project, told the Guardian that topics such as the refugee experience are important to explore, but they "need to sit within a wider diet of books so readers can appreciate that people from minority backgrounds have as much variety of life as everyone else."

It's not just literature across the pond that needs to improve. Last year, NPR reported that the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin had found that 22 percent of children's books published in the U.S. in 2016 were about people of color. That's higher than the U.K's numbers, but there is still room for improvement. 

Not only is it important for young people to see themselves represented in the books they read, but more diversity also allows children of all backgrounds to explore experiences different from their own. "Books that are about Black people or about Muslims or about Asians can also find a home and be loved by people who are not of that culture," Stacey Barney, a senior editor at Penguin Putnam Young Readers, told NPR.

Many people on Twitter spoke out about the new U.K. numbers, with some highlighting their favorite children's books featuring characters of color, as well as publishers, organizations, and authors who are making diversity a priority — including Knights Of, which started the #BooksMadeBetter initiative.

There are also many initiatives in the United States which seek to bring better representation to the children's book landscape. That includes the book club Books N Bros, which was started by a young reader named Sidney Keys III, to encourage literacy and celebrate stories of the Black experience. 

Then there's Jerry Zhang, the dad who created a character named Pepper Zhang so that his daughters would have an Asian children's book character to relate to. "All children benefit from reading books with a diverse array of lead characters," Zhang told A Plus, "because diversity is a part of our everyday lives — so we should celebrate it at a young age."

Cover image: Cenz07 / Shutterstock.com

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