Only 4% of the 9,115 children’s books published in 2017 featured Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority characters (BAME), but at the last census in 2011, nearly a fifth of the population of Derby identified as BAME.

This lack of representation brought Di Smith, a volunteer who organises our annual Meet the Author events, to the idea of a Derby Book Festival award that champions those children’s books who are breaking the trend.

We spoke with Di about Derby Book Festival’s first ever Children’s Picture Book Award.

How important is it for children to be able to connect with the characters in the books they read?

Di: There is a sizeable body of research that suggests it’s extremely important. One of the most influential voices has been Rudine Sims Bishop, who talks about children’s literature providing ‘Mirrors, windows and sliding doors’.

A very significant report was ‘Reflecting Realities’, which came from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) last year and analysed the books published for 3-11 year olds in 2017. This revealed many eye-opening statistics, such as the fact that just one book featuring a BAME character was defined as ‘comedy’, out of the more than 9,000 published that year.

Just 1% of those books had a BAME main character, and only 391 of the books had any BAME characters at all.

Are there any other awards in the publishing industry that are raising the same issue?

D: Not at the moment as far as I know but it may be that I haven’t come across them! We definitely wanted it to be a local one.

There are, however, a number of other responses to diversity in children’s literature. There are small independent publishers with a diversity focus, for instance Lantana Publishing, who Published one of our shortlisted titles, Nimesh the Adventurer.

Organisations like Megaphone are working to encourage writers from a BAME background, and The Publishers Association recently launched a 10 point action plan to tackle inclusivity. The next study from the CLPE is out in 2019, as well, which will be very interesting.


How did you organise the Festival’s first Children’s Picture Book Award?

D: We invited publishers to submit up to three books published in 2018, and over 20 books were submitted and narrowed down to a longlist of nine. Meanwhile, we asked schools in Derby to apply to take part, with a group of seven schools picked to be judges.

Our longlist of nine books went to a shortlisting group formed by 12 volunteer teachers from schools across the city, leaving us with a selection of four books. Five copies of the books went out to the Year 2 and 3 classes for each school, thanks to the sponsorship of our sponsor Deborah Fern.

In March the pupils read each book, and we asked them to consider whether the books were engaging, could they identify with at least one of the characters, and did the illustrations and the language of the books support this identification.

All the schools then went through a voting day on Thursday 11 April, and our winner was announced in May: The Girls, written by Lauren Ace and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie, published by Little Tiger Press.

What’s next?

D: All the pupils who took part now have the exciting opportunity to meet Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie, who will be visiting their schools on 16 and 17 July.

Afterwards we’ll be taking a look at what we’ve learned and deciding on the next steps for the Children’s Picture Book Award in 2020.


The 2019 Shortlist

Nimesh the Adventurer by Ranjit Singh, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (Lantana Publishing)

The Girls by Lauren Ace, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie (Little Tiger Press)

The Only Way is Badger by Stella J Jones, Illustrated by Carmen Saldaña (Little Tiger Press)

Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival (Bloomsbury)

More about diversity in children’s literature:

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Derby Book Festival

29 May – 6 June 2020

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Derby Book Festival is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation registered with the Charity Commission for England & Wales Number 1159763