2020 has been a difficult year. And I realise ‘difficult’ does not quite begin to cover the complete and utter pandemonium that 2020 has been so far — and we still have a few months left! David Attenborough better be in bloody good health or there will be trouble. But I digress…
One of the joys to emerge from the Groundhog Day chaos of 2020 was The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference. An event which saw organisations and speakers from across the world of children’s publishing take to the e-stage to discuss their plans and hopes for the future of the industry. The conference was awash with enthusiasm for all things children’s books, which was wonderful to see. Yet one of the conference’s greatest strengths was in its willingness to explore some of the bigger issues facing the industry and consider how they might be resolved. A recurring issue that was touched upon by many of the speakers is one which has dominated headlines of late: the lack of diversity in publishing.
The statistics for diversity within publishing are pretty grim, as ‘only 4% of British children’s books contain a black or minority ethnic character’ (Alison Flood 2020). An alarming figure I uncovered following the conference. But it was because of two of the conference’s speakers that I wanted to find out more.
Author Nathan Bryon and illustrator Dapo Adeola gave an entertaining and insightful discussion about the success of their children’s book Look Up! (Puffin Books 2019). A children’s picture book that tells the delightful story of a young (aspiring astronaut) called Rocket as she seeks to bring her community together through an impending meteor shower. The story is beautifully crafted by Bryon and Adeola and what makes the book all the more valuable is that it features a cast of predominantly BAME characters. In 2020 Look Up! won the Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year award resulting in renewed interest in the creative team and their title.
During the conference, it was great to see the excitement and energy of Bryon and Adeola as they discussed what the future might hold. But they also encouraged the publishing industry to do more to support diversity and address the obstacles faced by many BAME creators in the industry. Adeola was particularly interesting in ways that he could utilise his newfound success to support creators who were still pursuing their dreams through an Arts After School programme, which he has been considering for some time. A way in which he could give back and support creators who may be ignored (or even told to ‘retrain’).
Above all, Dapo Adeola stressed the importance of addressing the lack of diversity in the publishing sector so that more creators can be embraced and succeed in the same way that he and Bryon have. Adeola emphasises that improving diversity is not the responsibility of one publishing house; it is problem which can only be addressed by a collaborative effort from the industry as a whole.