Article published in META 2020/04 on 12/05/2020
In 2019, American researcher Sarah Park Dahlen published a study on her website (www.readingspark.wordpress.com) exploring different kinds of characters in English language children’s books published in 2018. The accompanying numbers speak volumes: 50% of all characters are white people, 27% are animals or objects. That means that only 23% of characters are people of colour: people of Native American/First Nations (1%), Latin-American (5%), Asian (7%) or African-American/African (10%) descent.
While these numbers speak for themselves, they become even more meaningful when you look at the way Park Dahlen represents her results. She shows the different characters with different sized mirrors, depending on how well they are represented in the books, and thereby refers to a metaphor that has become essential in conversations about diversity and children’s books: children who see themselves mirrored in books, recognize themselves and see their reality confirmed. At the same time, children need books that enable them to look through windows, in order to learn that their perspective is not the only one out there. The issue today is that too many children lack mirrors to see themselves and their realities reflected, while children who do see themselves represented, are not offered enough windows on other children and their perspectives.
The project Every Story Matters – making books more inclusive wants to change this. Six European partners dedicate themselves to make children’s books and young adult literature more inclusive. A more inclusive literature is a literature where everyone feels welcomed, regardless of socio-economic or cultural origin, sexual preferences or gender expression, physical or mental disabilities. The project is supported by Creative Europe.
In the first place, Every Story Matters wants to contribute to a more diverse literary field. In a talent development programme coordinated by Dutch partner ROSE stories, six authors and/or illustrators are given the opportunity to produce an inclusive story based on the needs and experiences of children to create new role models for a young and diverse audience. The programme is based on the ROSE children’s stories programme and is supported by the Dutch Foundation for Literature.
In order to create change on a European scale, more action is necessary. Every Story Matters wants to create awareness in all actors in the literary field and to give them the tools and strategies needed to become more inclusive. This will be done through workshops in schools and libraries, a conference, business-to-business events on international book fairs and networking sessions for international publishers.
One of the most important instruments will be a European equivalent of the charter for inclusion in Flanders. The prototype was launched on April 1stin 2019 and by now more than 170 individuals and organisations have signed the charter for a more inclusive literary field. You can find the charter on the website www.elkverhaaltelt.org.
The importance of libraries
Libraries are vital links in the process of creating a more diverse and inclusive literary field. Their main goal is to make literature accessible to everyone and to promote reading. In order to make libraries a safe haven for everyone, it is important that everyone feels welcome and that they see themselves represented on the book shelves.
That’s why reading promoter Andreia Brites will tour libraries in Portugal to make library workers more aware of what they are putting on their shelves. Portuguese partner Acesso Cultura coordinates this initiative. Using picture books, participants of the workshop will challenge their knowledge of diversity and learn how they can manage their own prejudices. What does diversity mean and how do we recognize it? Why do we believe it is important and where does it need to be included? What is the difference between a diverse story and a diverse voice? The method will help surface (un)conscious biases and provide the basis of a confronting, but enriching conversation on evolving towards a more inclusive library selection.
One of the participants said the following: “People who want to curate a diverse collection, have to be aware of their own stereotypes and prejudices. It is an essential insight we overlooked before. We don’t now, and it is of vital importance.”
If you are interested in a workshop in your library, you can request a template from firstname.lastname@example.org with more information on the workshop and its methods. You can sign the Flemish charter for inclusion at www.elkverhaaltelt.org.