Where the BAME boys are… Looking for diversity in children’s picture books.

Our favourite finds

You might be nodding your head or rolling your eyes. And you’re probably thinking ‘duh, this is true but obvious’. If so, then please skip on to the good news…

Which is that while there aren’t enough of them, there are some great books out there. My children and I went through the ones we could find. Both on our own shelves and out there in shops and libraries. And we created a list of our favourite brilliant and (importantly) high quality picture books.

All of them star black, Asian or minority ethnic boy characters.

All of them are wonderfully illustrated, and fun to read. And we did, in the end, even find a few with dinosaurs and aliens.

I am still looking for pirates and superheroes though – so let me know if you find any!

Click here to check out the list. You can also read my reviews of each title and get a sneaky peak inside.

If you’re up for a longer read, I’d love to share with you why I focused on boys and what I found out during my search for these books. Researching around the issue gave me plenty of food for thought. I would love to know what you think about this too. So scroll on to join me down that rabbit hole!

Stack of picture books that star a black, Asian or minority ethnic boy character.
Our favourite picture books featuring BAME boy main characters.

Why diverse characters in picture books are so important

It seems like it must be obvious why it’s important that our children’s books contain a diverse array of characters. And in many ways it is.

Just for starters, they help our children embrace diversity by showing them faces, cultures and experiences different to their own. Simultaneously, they help our children develop their sense of identity by showing them faces like their own too.

Any way you look at it, diversity in children’s books is a good thing for ALL kids. But if it’s so obvious, why do we need to talk about it?

The answer to that question is twofold.

Firstly, though diversity in books is obviously a good thing, it hasn’t been happening enough. You’ll find the evidence for that below. So talking about it raises awareness with book makers and sellers, and with buyers and readers too. That conversation is already leading to positive (if slow) change.

And secondly, the reasons why diversity is a good thing are many and varied. Understanding these reasons, rather than just intuitively ‘knowing’ it’s a good thing, has helped me personally try to make better choices. It’s helped me really think about what messages the books I buy are giving to my children. And it’s challenged assumptions I didn’t even know I had.

The CLPE ‘Reflecting Realities’ report

But where is the evidence for all this? Well, a few weeks ago, the CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) published their latest ‘Reflecting Realities’ report, looking at representations of ethnic diversity in children’s books published in 2018 in the UK. This is the follow-up to their pioneering survey, published last year, which looked at books published in 2017.

The first reflecting realities report came up with some grim, but sadly unsurprising, figures. 9115 children’s books were published in the UK in 2017. But the CLPE found that only 1% of these books had an ethnic minority main character. And this was out of only 4% that had any BAME character at all.

6 Comments

  1. I always look for books with more diversity for Erin but they’re not always that easy to come by. I wish our library had more.

  2. I think this is a really important topic, I want my children to grow up understanding and respecting others individuality and uniqueness. We recently had a great book, The Forgotten Forest, which can be personalised with a huge range of options from skin tones to wheelchairs, to represent all children.

  3. There definitely should be more books that celebrate diversity. Not just for those wanting to see characters they can relate to, but for everyone!

  4. Such an important topic and im shamed to admit something I hadnt thought about until you brought it to my attention. Ive seen some lovely personalised books that have this option. Hopefully there will be more moving forward

  5. I work in a pre-school and we have lots of books that feature different ethnicities and disabilities. Never realised they are so tough to find

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