Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Bookseller Children’s Conference 2020. The fact that the conference had to be an entirely online event this year was a constant reminder of the uncertain times we all currently find ourselves living in. Despite this, the overarching theme of the conference was one of hope. The conference brought together people at various points in their publishing career. All of the speakers talked passionately about their specific goals and hopes for the future of publishing. Instead of focusing on what has been lost in recent months and the difficulties we have all faced the speakers focused on what has been gained. They focused on the innovative ways in which people in the industry have managed to support each other and work together to overcome the unpredictable hurdles that have been set in front of them. It was an incredible opportunity to get to hear from so many influential people in publishing today. It is something that I am grateful to have been able to attend as I begin my own journey into this dynamic and everchanging industry alongside the other MSc Publishing students.
In times of great uncertainty, I think it is a very human response to seek comfort in stories. Recently we have had to stay more isolated than many of us have ever had to be before. Now more than ever the escapism and hope offered between the pages of books and in particular children’s books, is so very important. Stories have brought people together since we first learned to tell them, and it seemed fitting that a conference dedicated to celebrating them was so full of hope and inspiration. However, the optimism for the future of the industry did not mean that the work that needs to still be done to improve was overlooked. The places where the industry currently falls short were acknowledged, with a particular focus on diversity. It was an important reminder that we all have a responsibility to advocate for the stories that need to be told and for new voices to get a chance to be celebrated. It was hard to listen to everyone’s stories and not feel inspired to get to work.
The shared hope emerging from the conference was that the industry will continue to grow. It was inspiring to see so many people working to create a more diverse and equal industry. The importance of representation in children’s books was repeatedly emphasised as people shared their stories and explained that despite the progress that has been made, there is still a long way to go. It would be a disservice to young readers if we didn’t strive to share stories that they could see themselves in and learn from. The more inclusive we make books the more children get to see themselves, to find magic in their own world. It tells them that they are seen that they are not alone and that no matter what is happening in their lives there is always hope, and there is somewhere to run to. This was is a sentiment that many of us can relate to. Thankfully, it is clear that there are many people in the industry working to create that reality.