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Looking Ahead: Thoughts on Reflecting Diversity in Children’s Literature

By Pathways

The Reflecting Realities: Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature 2018 shows that there has been an increased presence of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) characters in children’s books published in 2018, compared to the previous year.  This is the second year the survey has been conducted in the UK, with the aim of identifying and highlighting representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages 3 – 11.” Centre for literacy and Primary Education

On 14th February, we, the Pathways mentees were invited to attend a Professional Development Day about reflecting diversity as children’s book illustrators at the Centre for Literacy and Primary Education (CLPE). It was a great day, packed with informative and thorough presentations given by CLPE’s Regional Learning Programme Leader, Farrah Serroukh and author and project manager from the Book Trust, Indigo Williams. I left the day feeling inspired, was but was equally overcome with a sense of responsibility towards the work I continue to put into the world.

Self-portrait by Rosa Doyle

I am a woman of colour born in the late eighties to second-generation parents of the Windrush generation. I feel that in some ways my conditioning has left me confused about my identity. Art and Literature are both subjects I love and am deeply passionate about. Yet not seeing enough positive examples of people with a similar cultural heritage to mine in creative fields or as characters in stories has caused me a lot of confusion and has left me wondering what it means to be a person of colour in 2020.

The Pathways Professional Development Day left me feeling relieved and encouraged. Both Farrah and Indigo talked about expressing creativity and drawing inspiration from illustration and art while representing diversity in our work. They told us that creative freedom is possible, but there is also a very strong emphasis on carrying out thorough research, especially while working with narratives where one’s own lived experience is limited or not present. Taking the breadth of the readership into consideration should be our first priority while illustrating a story. The Professional Development Day showed me that if research isn’t adequately carried out, reflected upon and documented, the outcome could become problematic. Further, since working with a publisher as an illustrator calls for close collaboration, inadequate research could very easily lead to miscommunications.

“I made this painting by referencing pebbles I’d collected from the seafront and then worked more from my imagination to bridge the gap. This reflects some of the research processes I adopt as an illustrator as well as the creative liberties I take. For example, the colours in this painting are amplified to reflect my personal belief that there is beauty to be found everywhere.”

Learning about the intricacies of reflecting diversity in my work got me thinking about a book I love: ‘The Undefeated’ By Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. I find ‘The Undefeated’ to be both inspirational and aspirational. It is a book to inspire and educate all children that clearly reflects diversity in a way that is representative of the world we live in today. Both Alexander and Nelson pay close attention to their representation of history, paying attention to even the most subtle details, such as when Alexander cites fragments of quotes by Martin Luther King and other well known and respected public figures from history within his words, or in Nelson’s carefully considered use of hierarchy within colour schemes throughout all the illustrations. There is a seamless beauty within the craftsmanship of this picture book.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

While my Illustration is not directly inspired by Kwame Alexander or Kadir Nelson stylistically or in the themes that reoccur in either of their work, it is the generosity of the collaboration that inspires and motivates me. I feel this book really is a gift to the world of children’s publishing. One day I aspire to write and illustrate books that I hope will inspire children to cultivate a love for reading and most importantly, be true to themselves.  I am excited to learn as much as I can about the craft of storytelling and illustration as a Pathway mentee. I’d like to share my perspective in a way that is accessible to readers of all ages and look forward to seeing the breadth of our society reflected more accurately in children’s books going forward.

Rosa Doyle is an artist, aspiring children’s book illustrator and Pathways mentee based in Hastings, East Sussex. Rosa started exploring her⁣ love for art and nature from a young age, which she then honed during⁣ her bachelor’s degree in Illustration at Camberwell College.⁣ ⁣⁣⁣She currently runs a creative business designing and producing⁣ cards and prints, which can be found on the shelves of a⁣ number of independent shops, museums and charities.⁣⁣⁣