How can non-stereotypical representations be introduced into the book market? What good examples of diversity and inclusion can we share? How can those active in the book sector learn from each other in this respect? And how can they contribute to a more diverse and inclusive children’s literature? These are the questions the Goethe-Institut Finnland and co-creators Warda Ahmed, EL BOUM and Chantal-Fleur Sandjon asked themselves when developing the DRIN project. So what exactly does it entail?
‘DRIN – visions for children’s books’ was launched in 2018 by the Goethe-Institut Finnland and stands for Diversity, Representation, Inclusion, Norm Critique. By means of an online publication (In Our Own Words: BIPOC Perspectives in Children's Literature), as well as numerous events and articles, DRIN is striving to raise awareness about diversity in children’s picture books and the industry behind them. To give you a taste of what you can learn from the project, we will share three of its tips and conclusions about diversity and inclusion in the book sector.
From problems to solutions: what can be done?
All year round, DRIN organizes international events, including seminars, webinars, book clubs and workshops, in which hosts and participants come together to share ideas and thoughts on how the book sector could become more inclusive and diverse. Because the book industry encompasses many different activities – writing, illustrating, publishing, marketing, etc. – the events discuss many different topics ranging from diversity and inclusion in libraries to writing about your own experiences as a BIPOC author. On the project’s website, many materials such as videos and presentations of the events are made available for everyone.
For instance, you’ll find a presentation on the site about diversity from a librarian's perspective, listing the problems faced by libraries that can also occur in other areas of the book industry. They include stereotyping, tokenism and cultural appropriation in books that supposedly take account of diversity, unequal implementation of policy across institutions, and staffing that fails to reflect the composition of the community. Once it knows what the pitfalls are, the book sector can step in and try to eradicate such problems by ensuring more qualitative diversity in books, working towards uniform application of norm-critical thinking across all institutions, and hiring more diverse staff.
Calling out to diverse authors: a diverse literary world cannot exist without you
In 2021 the Goethe-Institut Finnland published In Our Own Words: BIPOC Perspectives in Children's Literature, an interesting and highly readable publication that gives an insight into all stages of a book’s life and includes examples of good practice, questions to reflect on, lists of recommended children’s books, interviews, insightful observations on diversity within the book industry and affirmations. Here is one example:
‘There is a child out there for whom my art is their first mirror. I create for this child today.’ Even now, too few children’s books are written by People of Colour, so it’s important to encourage them to make more. We are therefore including affirmations to remind such authors that a diverse literary world cannot exist without them.
Diverse families as a way to reflect reality
The DRIN website publishes articles about inclusion and diversity in the book sector. They range from critical observations on diversity in German and Finnish children’s books to examinations of the diversity gap in children’s literature. The articles are written by experts in the field, so they are both insightful and well informed.
One of the articles highlights the need for more diverse family structures in children’s books. These might include bicultural families, single-parent families, same-sex families, families with divorced parents, or children who are being brought up by their grandparents. While other types of family do appear in children’s and young adult novels, the vast majority of books still describe nuclear families, which means that many young children are not able to read about their own reality.
In short, the DRIN project aims to achieve a permanent transformation that will make the literary sector more diverse and inclusive. If you would like to find out more about its content, be sure to visit the website: https://www.goethe.de/ins/fi/en/kul/sup/drin.html