Go beyond David Walliams… the hunt is on to diversify children’s books | Books

A program that aims to tackle the lack of diversity in children’s books was launched after its founder said the practice of richer authors paying for publication support “skews the landscape” for writers at home. low income.

All Stories, launched this month, is one of several programs recently launched to help writers from under-represented groups enter the children’s book market, which is heavily dominated by white celebrities such as Tom Fletcher. and David Walliams. Other diets include Write now, an editorial program launched last year by Penguin Random House to encourage the talent of 14 underrepresented writers, and Megaphone, a mentorship and masterclass program that supports six writers of color for one year.

The All Stories Mentorship Program was founded by Catherine Coe, a British freelance publisher of children’s books with 20 years of experience. She has noticed that more and more writers for aspiring children are paying freelance editors and taking writing classes to “polish” their manuscripts and get advice on pitching, before submitting their stories to editors.

“What I have seen is that many – if not most – of the first authors of children’s books that are published today are those who were able to afford to pay for support to develop their writing,” a- she declared.

Melissa Abraham, a London-based writer of Ghanaian descent who won a spot on All Stories, has lost track of how many times her children’s stories have been rejected by editors and agents.

An illustration of Dapo Adeola’s debut, Hey You! Photography: Joëlle Avelino

“There were a lot of them. I would say I’m approaching 100, ”she said. “I didn’t want to give up. I have these stories to tell and I feel the kids would enjoy them.

The program is funded by the Arts Council England and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.

Abraham hopes to publish a picture book about an Afro-Caribbean girl who discovers she can turn mud into anything she wants. “I think children from ethnic minorities should have access to stories where the main character looks like them. I didn’t really have that myself when I was a kid.

Last year, the reading charity Booktrust reported that 93% of children’s books were written by white people, while 2019 research from the Center for Literacy in Primary Education found that only 5% of children’s books were written by white people. featured a main character from an ethnic minority. Nine out of 10 books did not contain any BAME characters. Nine out of 10 books contained no BAME characters, yet 33% of school-aged children in England are from an ethnic minority.

In 2019, the Guardian analyzed the diversity of the most popular picture books and found that – despite Julia Donaldson’s enormous popularity – the vast majority were written and illustrated by white men.

Award-winning Anglo-Nigerian children’s illustrator and author Dapo Adeola isn’t convinced that children’s publishers are doing enough to improve diversity in the industry. “It’s great that they are launching these programs. But I think there is a simpler, more straightforward approach that can be taken, if the editors are willing to step out of the door that they are opening for people to go through and get to those communities.

Publishers are taking small steps, he says. “Everything they seem to be doing reinforces the whole narrative that“ one or two black people can walk through this door at a time. ”I don’t see enough work at the base.

About Geraldine Higgins

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