During The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference 2021, I became immersed in the theme of a ‘New Normal’ and the ways in which children’s literature and storytelling has adapted, evolved and thrived in an uncertain world during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within this conversation, The Bookseller highlighted specific importance around the topic of racism through a case study named, ‘Explaining Racism to Young Children,’ in which Katie Daynes (author and editor at Usborne Publishing) and Justine King (education co-ordinator at Show Racism the Red Card) discussed the partnership between the companies created in the last year – after the death of George Floyd and the momentous Black Lives Matter protests around the world in 2020 – and how it has led to children’s literature travelling in the right direction of an anti-racist and inclusive medium of educational storytelling.
“[…] this global reaction made us as individuals at Usborne and the company as a whole sit up and think ‘We are not doing enough. We have to do more.’ […] How can we improve our offering as publishers? How do we ensure representation and diversity in our books?”KATIE DAYNES, USBORNE
Daynes explained that Usborne creates books that deal with difficult topics in a way that can be understood by young children; whilst King specialises in anti-racist education and equality legislation training for children and adults. This partnership was formed due to a conscious effort to provide a platform in which they can actively educate and change the commonly ignorant narrative around racism into an anti-racist and progressive discourse – focusing on the genuine curiosity of children and the ways in which they can boldly ask sensitive questions; process the answers; and educate the adults in their lives through the power of fiction.
The complexity of talking to adults about these issues was emphasised due to the fear of judgement; personal ignorance; and social media and the emergence of ‘Cancel Culture’ which interferes with a fundamental opportunity to educate and learn. Thus, there is an inherent importance to introduce children to these sensitive subjects in a non-condescending, respectful and anti-racist way which can be achieved through storytelling that is enriched with emotional depth, intelligence, and moral value. Both speakers believe that children have the power to change the world if they are provided with the correct resources because their curiosity doesn’t change based on their religious, social, and economic backgrounds; so, the things they learn from literature can be absorbed and applied to their everyday lives within society to make the world more diverse, inclusive, understanding and kind.
This discussion resonated with me quite deeply as I had grown up in a difficult and under-privileged environment where, as a child, I had no real concept of economic, racial and moral injustices. However, reading was my only form of escapism and whilst submerged in a children’s book in the public library, I felt seen and my knowledge and understanding of my own circumstances and emotions began to evolve which has shaped me into the person I am today.
Overall, Usborne and Show Racism the Red Card argue that people should be anti-racist in all that they do as publishers, creators and human beings to be able to stay vigilant and make an active change, which, to me, makes the work that they are doing for children (and the world) truly magical – being able to simplify, but not dilute, sensitive issues into a story that children can understand and relate to is a gift and should be the ‘New Normal!’