Growing up amidst the vibrance of South London’s Croydon, experiencing and seeing cultural diversity first-hand was my lived experience from a young age. Yet my Mum was forced to buy books from America just so that I could read books with characters that looked like me. She really struggled to find books in the UK that reflected the diversity that I experienced every day on our doorstep, and I am not alone.
A third of children in the UK are from an ethnic minority background, yet latest figures from the National Literacy Trust show a mere 5% of all published children’s books featured someone as a main character from one of these backgrounds.
Increasing representation is exactly what inspired me to start Woke Babies, the UK’s first and leading Black children’s book subscription service and publisher. I often get messages from parents thanking me for helping them to ensure their bookshelves are more reflective of their children’s worlds around them. Some may take this for granted but hearing from a parent whose son pointed to a bear in a popular children’s book and said “Look Mummy, that’s me because I’m brown like the bear”, is not an uncommon story. It is far more difficult to help kids develop a love for reading if they do not see themselves in the books they are reading and we know this is critical not only to attainment but also to their happiness.
When children see themselves in a positive light it creates the possibility for them to take up space and step into their full potential.
Over the last few years, there has been a slight increase in books with more diverse characters but a lot of them are limited to being about history or social issues – so Black children are limited to only see themselves in these contexts. Black characters also rarely have iconic roles. All the famous characters that children grow up seeing, learning about and loving tend to be white or are written as white characters.
This is particularly the case with fairy tales; these well-known and much-loved stories have permeated our childhoods and been passed on from generation to generation. That is the inspiration for the HairyTales collection. We have collaborated with incredible creators including renowned children’s author Trish Cooke and British haircare brand, Tangle Teezer, to reimagine three fairy tales in a more representative way celebrating natural, afro-textured hair. Hair is such an important part of a person’s identity and for Black children not seeing themselves and their hair represented is sadly the norm. It is great to see brands like Tangle Teezer championing and actively encouraging greater representation in authentic ways such as this.
For children, books should be a window through which they can both see themselves and learn about others in a way that reflects society and the world around them. Of course, there are similarities that connect us as people, but we also have differences, based on everything from our heritage to our lived experiences. A book can be an incredible way to explore those differences that allows the readers to recognise, connect with and affirm their experiences as well as invaluable insight for those who may not identify with them. This is not just about diverse characters for a diverse audience, this is about increasing representation to be more reflective of the real world so all children can see the possibilities for themselves and their peers.
Representation matters and that is something that cannot be overstated – as the saying goes: “You can’t be what you can’t see”. When children see themselves in a positive light – being the heroes, princesses, astronauts, scientists, or just simply as the focal point of an amazing story – it creates the possibility for them to take up space and step into their full potential. I believe that that starts with books.
Woke Babies has partnered with Tangle Teezer to launch the Hairytales Collection. The three kids’ books give traditional fairy tales a makeover by putting Black characters centre stage. They're available to buy now from Tangle Teezer's website.
10 Books For Different Ages If You're Trying To Make Sure Your Child's Bookshelf Is Diverse
A lovely little board book to inspire even the youngest reader, as well as teaching them about some inspirational Black women in history. It's never too early to start educating children.
A classic - and one I remember my dad reading to me often! This book is a joy, and features all of the wonderful family members in baby's life that love him 'so much', and the ways that they show that love.
A truly beautiful book - and beloved at Round Table Books! This wonderfully illustrated picture book is all about Rocket, a young girl obsessed with the stars, and her determination to get her community - and also her brother - to look up and experience the joys of the stars with her!
This fun and inspiring mystery novel is great for young readers, and has a brilliant friendship at its core.
A celebration of the achievements of 52 inspirational Black people, past and present, from homeland abroad. This is an excellent educational tool, as well as something to cherish for life.
Another must have for every child. This book will inspire young readers, while also learning about many Black men in history that have changed the world with their actions, as well as some present day heroes.
A British murder mystery with two young detectives, Nik and Norva, who are determined to solve the case. A brilliant book from a masterful author - as you read you can feel the heat of the sweltering summer!
An excellent start for educating children on what racism is and how to go about becoming anti-racist. It's a brilliant resource with very powerful illustrations throughout.
A captivating novel. Justyce is top of his class, dreams set on going to an Ivy League college, but the police don't care about any of that when they put him in cuffs - they just see the colour of his skin. Told with letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as Justyce tries to gather his thoughts, this is one book every teenager should read. The sequel, Dear Justyce, is out later this year.
This incredibly raw debut novel excellently captures internal struggles of growing up and learning to find your voice. Written in verse, this is one that is sure to make you shed a tear.