British children's books don't reflect cultural diversity, Laureate says

Fri Jul 11, 2014 10:09am EDT
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By Simon Falush

LONDON (Reuters) - British children's books still don't reflect the cultural diversity of the country's children and would-be authors, Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman said.

Her own best-known books, the Noughts and Crosses trilogy, tackle racism, teenage sex and terrorism - challenging stereotypes by showing white-skinned characters subjected to prejudices and restrictions.

She was criticized in the media for a sympathetic portrayal of a suicide bomber in the final part of the trilogy, "Checkmate", that was released just a month before suicide bomb attacks killed 52 Londoners on public transport on July 7, 2005.

She responds by saying that those who criticized her had not read the books, and if they had, they would realize that the books help people understand motivations, not condone them.

"Very, very few picture books are published in this country that feature children of color," Blackman told Reuters at a cafe in the British Library. "We might have dogs, cats, rabbits, puppies, but when it comes to children, very few (featuring different ethnicities) are published."

Blackman won her two-year term as Laureate, awarded after consultations including librarians, booksellers and children voting online, in 2013. The role champions children's literature and past holders include Julia Donaldson, author of the Gruffalo, and illustrator Quentin Blake.

Blackman wants more new authors from ethnic minorities to get their books published in Britain. "I can reel off the name of about 10 or 15 black and minority ethnic authors in the UK, but I should be able to reel off a hell of a lot more."

She says that when she started writing, she was told that white children wouldn't want to read books that featured black characters.   Continued...