The chances are, your child’s bookshelf doesn’t look anything like the UK does, due to limited representations of ethnicity, family set up, disabilities and gender available in children’s books. Here are some facts and stats.
- In the UK 33.5% of school age children are of black, Asian or minority ethnic origins
- According to the 2011 census, 1 in 8 people in the UK describe themselves as Arab, Asian, Black, Chinese or Mixed Race
Yet in the CLPE’s (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) recent report, ‘Reflected Realities’, research showed that only 5% of children’s books published in 2019 had a black, Asian or minority ethnic main character.
“The age period of three to seven is considered a critical development period in which children are able to differentiate between skin colors, learn labels associated with different skin colors, and develop emotional responses to those labels, making these years the most crucial for establishing positive racial attitudes in children” – Wilson 2014
Family set up
Out of nearly 8 million families in the UK
- There are almost 1.8 million single parent families
- There are 18,000 same sex couples with children
- Step families are the fastest growing type of family
- Over 1 million children live in step-families
- There are over 65,000 children in care and over 6000 children adopted or fostered every year
There is a richness in the diversity of our family set ups in the UK which give authors the chance to add nuance to stories and help many more children recognise themselves in stories. Most children’s stories reflect opposite sex couples with children and mothers parenting alone. More research is needed into the representations of family set up in children’s books.
Children’s books have been revealed to have a profound gender bias.
- In a study co-authored by Professor Janice McCabe, from Florida State University in 2011, out of around 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, a quarter had no female characters.
- As shown by research by the Observer and Nielsen, out of the 100 most popular picture books of 2017 the majority were dominated by male characters and female characters were completely absent from 20% of the books.
- In a recent small study of 150 books by Book Blogger #FRED he found that out of the 83 books they read with animals as the main characters, 63% were male and only 7% were female.
And it’s not doing boys any good. Their choices are being limited by their understanding of relationships and ‘boy’ traits as depicted in children’s books. This is being reflected in attainment at school.
At key stage 2, girls are ahead by six percentage points, for GCSEs, the gap for five A*-C grades, including English and maths, is nine percentage points in England, and more than seven in the rest of the UK.
Equitable representations of gender in children’s books would show boys working to attain privilege and status alongside talented and able girls, paving the way for them to understand what success entails, not having an expectation of who they are based on storybook stereotypes.
Representation of disabilities
- Across the UK there are 800,000 children living with disabilities under the age of 16
- A recent Scope report showed that 32% of disabled respondents said there is a lot of prejudice against disabled people in Britain
- 60% of people underestimate the number of disabled people in Britain
Book blogger Megan The Book Addicted Girl says that while representation has improved and there are more characters with disabilities in children’s book, it doesn’t go far enough.
“I want characters like me in books. I want brilliant, complex characters, who just happen to be disabled in some way. I don’t want “issue books” – I just want books with disabled characters in. I want a steampunk adventure and mystery, where one of the ladies is blind and uses an awesome walking stick to walk and fight. I want a murder mystery where one of the team members is in a wheelchair. I want an epic fantasy where one of the kids has autism. I want exciting books that feature disabled characters as easily as they’d feature a character with brown hair or a bad attitude (‘cause we all know how often protagonists in YA fantasy have those!).”
Little Box of Books has been set up so representative and inclusive children’s books reach a wider audience. This page will be updated as more research is completed. As we grow we hope to contribute to the knowledge and research base, increasing pressure on publishers, authors and consumers to have more diversity and representation in children’s books.
References and further reading
- Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990 “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”
- Tschida, Ryan, & Ticknor, 2014
- Wilson, Jenna, “Race Representations in Children’s Picture Books and Its Impact on the Development of Racial Identity and Attitudes” (2014)
- Western Libraries Undergraduate Research Award. 4