More Black characters best antidote to Lily-White children’s books
By Thomas L Blair 19 December 2018©
Christmas is the perfect time for kids to settle down with a book. A classic fable, a beautiful story about winter magic, a celebration of Kwanzaa first fruits, a tale to treasure — or to just have a good giggle.
But BEWARE. They won’t see much of their true Black selves. Only 4% of the 9,115 children’s books published in the UK in 2017 had characters of colour. Worse yet, they are usually shown as problem kids, victims of slavery, war and racism in 400 books for 3 to 11-year-olds, according to a major report on Literacy and Primary Education.
The Lily-White movement, historically anti-Black advancement, has its modern equivalents in publishing. Negative stereotypes, consciously deployed, have a corrosive impact on young minds. They are a mask for racism. In effect, they make Black children feel different and less worthy than their white peers. Defined only by their suffering and otherness. More pitied than a cosy read.
But rescue is at hand. Black writers and publishers aim to produce meaningful and accurate Black characters. More representative of Black Britain.
Malorie Blackman, the UK’s first Black children’s laureate, and herself of Barbadian heritage puts it this way. We need more books on the British minority experience or “Black children may be turned off school”, she says.
Undoubtedly, Christmas books don’t have to be all white and fairy. Black tales can find a place in books for children of all ages covering history, biography, global migration and social issues to world religions, human geography and environmental topics.
There is a new genre waiting to be illustrated and published. Why not Black super-heroes like Black Panther. A whole series of picture books and youth novels can be based on T’Challa, heir to the hidden but advanced kingdom of Wakanda, who leads his people into a new future.
So, this Christmas and in the New Year look for some positive page-turners by writers of colour and inclusive publishers. Their stories are visually rich and conceptually meaningful. They give children unique perspectives on universal themes: such as love, race equality, friendship and freedom and a greater awareness of the diverse world we live in.
Here are five publishers to look out for based on their publicity news, with acknowledgment.
Alanna Max “We are passionate about children’s books and we believe everyone loves a good story! However, some children struggle to find books in which they see themselves and their experiences. Our stories are naturally inclusive of a wide range of people and experiences – so ALL children can enjoy them”.
Dinosaur Books publish stories for young readers that “combine exciting, page turning adventure with ideas that encourage readers to think”.
Lantana Publishing produce award-winning picture books for children from “outstanding writing from around the world”.
Tamarind Press , founded by Verna Wilkins in 1987, puts diversity ‘in the picture’.
Hope Road Publishing vigorously supports “writers and stories from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean too often neglected by the mainstream”.
Read more in the chronicleworld.co.uk MERRY KWANZAA & SEASON’S GREETINGS TO BLACK BRITAIN, December 26, 2016