From The Bookseller:
The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) has revealed that there has been a slight increase in children’s books featuring a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) character – from 4% in 2017 to 7% last year – with a rise in BAME central protagonists, from 1% to 4% in its second annual report on the issue.
The ‘Reflecting Realities: Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature 2018‘ report was released on Thursday (19th September), with the key finding that there has been an increased presence of BAME characters in children’s books published in 2018, compared to the previous year. This is the second year the survey has been conducted in the UK, with the aim of identifying and highlighting representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages three to 11. The document was launched at an event attended by publishers, influencers and media at the CLPE centre in Waterloo, central London.
The report found that the number of BAME protagonists has increased from 1% to 4%, and the number of books featuring a BAME character has increased from 4% to 7% compared to 2017. This equated to 743 books found to have a BAME presence out of 11,011 books. BAME pupils make up 33.1% of the school population in England. Additionally, publishers reported to the CLPE that 42% of the books they published in 2018 featured animals or inanimate objects as main cast characters.
The report adds the survey has “raised important questions for us about what constitutes valid, appropriate and quality presence.”
The 23-page report, which saw the CLPE work with a steering group, also alluded to a sense of progress following the first report last year, and highlighted areas of good practice. “Our findings in the 2018 report – which covered data for the calendar year 2017 – did not surprise us,” the report reads. “What did surprise us, and indeed inspire us, was the range of ways in which last year’s report galvanised others. Our report shone a spotlight on the work of independent publishers like Alanna Max, Knights Of, Lantana Publishing, Otter-Barry Books and Tiny Owl whose commitment to reflecting the realities of young readers was already evident in their work.”
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However, the CLPE warned that beyond volume, it wished to “encourage quality portrayals and presence” as “Quantity alone will not suffice, particularly if the quality is poor or, worse still, problematic”.
While the authors conceded that “in this second cycle, we found broader, more nuanced relationships within the cast of main characters,” they were still concerned about preventing tokenistic appearances of BAME characters. “This survey has raised important questions for us about what constitutes valid, appropriate and quality presence.”
There were various concerns around ‘Characterisation’ of BAME characters. “It was often the case that characters from BAME backgrounds in the submitted books were less well drawn than equivalent white characters, both in terms of actual illustration and in terms of character development,” the authors wrote. “For example, there were a significant number of books submitted where characters were drawn with exaggerated features that amplified their ethnicity in a way that reduced them to caricatures. We observed instances of colourism, in which there was a direct correlation with the skin tone and the virtue of a character.”
The report also provided 10 “degrees of erasure” which provided specific terms of concern including “Cover Short Change” which saw BAME characters only featured on the cover and not inside the book as well as the “Jasmine default”. The authors wrote: “We experienced a disproportionately high number of female characters named ‘Jasmine.’ The name was, in many instances, the only cue available to suggest that the character was from an ethnic minority background and therefore appears to be the reason the book was submitted for the survey.”
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BAME characters “need to be well developed and authentically portrayed”. The report’s authors went on to say that these characters “should not be predominantly defined by their struggle, suffering or ‘otherness’” but should instead be “central to many narratives”.
Aimée Felone, co-founder of inclusive publisher and bookshop, Knights Of, welcomed the report. She told The Bookseller: “The CLPE report shines a light on troubling and problematic features in kids books – overuse of background BAME characters, characters that are ethnically ambiguous and hair as a single, insufficient cue that characters are from a BAME background.
“Many of the books published are still inadequate and rather alarmingly dangerous in their depiction of characters that are from BAME backgrounds.”
Link to the rest at The Bookseller