How is the industry evolving to increase diversity?

“If North American or European publishers aren’t recognising the responsibility they have in diversity, and largely publishing books that have white characters, that are talking about just one type of people and culture, the whole world feels that, because those books trickle into the rest of the world.” – Deborah Ahenkorah Osei-Agyekum, The Bookseller Children’s Conference 2020.

This singular quote encapsulates the need for diversity within children’s literature. Through charities and donations, a majority of children’s books travel from their Western home to other global regions, where they may not reflect the culture and communities they end up in. Understanding that many books may end up elsewhere, and the necessity of teaching children about diversity and inclusion, surely publishers would want to produce stories with a multitude of characters? After watching both Deborah Ahenkorah Osei-Agyekum and Dr Melanie Ramdershan Bold’s talks at the Bookseller Children’s Conference 2020, there is hope that change is on the way.

Let’s first examine the numbers. Dr Ramdershan Bold researches diversity within YA literature, exploring developmental changes between 2006-2016, and 2017-2019. Her focus is on YA authors, specifically the proportion of authors of colour versus white authors. She further breaks these statistics down into British creators, and which authors of colour were producing unique titles. She found that published YA authors of colour has risen from 8.81% to 19.60% between 2006 and 2019, writing a total of 20.30% of unique titles in 2019. While this is by no means an end point, the increasing trend of diversity is a step in the right direction and very good news for the industry.

This increased diversity can in part be attributed to an increase in practical opportunities, such as those presented by The Golden Baobab. The Golden Baobab is a nonprofit organisation, started by Ahenkorah Osei-Agyekum, which seeks to recognise and increase opportunities for writers and illustrators of African diaspora. This premise fundamentally allows young children of colour to see themselves and their culture represented in the literature they are surrounded by. This is so important because it allows them to envision their future, one that is not limited by who they fundamentally are.

One of the main takeaways that I would like to highlight here is that children’s fiction should be inclusive and joyful – yes, it’s important for them to also be exposed to real-life and the troubling experiences which that can encompass (check out A Kid’s Book About, by Jaleni Memory for some fabulous age-appropriate, non-fiction resources of this sort!), but they also need to have positive depictions of people who look like them and experiences within their culture growing up. Dr Ramdershan Bold succinctly encapsulates the general point that this post is trying to make, which is “the absence of an inclusive range of characters or creative role models in YA literature has the potential to deter young people from minority backgrounds from reading and experiencing the associated benefits.” These associated benefits can be as simple as inspiring a young person of colour to pursue a specific career path, because they have seen themselves represented in it through literature! What is equally important, is to afford creative opportunities to people from the community who they are trying to reach. Only through these measures can we ensure that the industry continues on its path towards diversity, and making the world better for all of our younger readers.