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Opinion: Reflecting Realities (2022)

The CLPE Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature 2017-2021

Illustrated by Diane Ewen

"These reports identify, evaluate representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages 3–11 and provide a benchmark to track and understand progress. Each report provides guidance informed by what we observe in the titles submitted in each cycle. This guidance is devised to support both producers and consumers of children’s literature to be more critically reflective. This in turn enables publishers to produce better quality inclusive literature and teachers to be more considered in their curation of their book stock." - Farrah Serroukh and Louise Johns-Shepherd, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), November 2022

If you are in children's publishing, the CLPE's Reflecting Realities research reports are an annual staple for checking how we're doing. Ensuring that the books that children have access to throughout their formative years from age 4 - 11 years are authentically representative of their heritage, culture, race and gender are vital. Identifying themselves in stories, seeing their lived experiences represented by a cast of characters and storylines not only leads to enhancing their reading journeys, but enables children to feel seen within society. Having kept at pace with these reports and the industry since 2019, here are my key takeaways and opinions for your perusal.

Key takeaways

"10% of children’s books have a character in them that is from a Black or minority ethnic background. 34% of children in primary schools are from a Black or minority background." - Source: CLPE, November 2022

  • quality of titles varies across and within publishing houses

  • increase of 5% to 20% from 2020 to 2021 of characters of colour featured in children's picture books, fiction and non-fiction titles = slow progress, positive growth

  • only England and Wales percentage of population data used for the report where a child was reported as belonging to an identified ethnic minority category, taken from the UK Census in 2011 = >decade old statistical data (2022 UK population is currently almost 69 million compared to 2021 UK population of 63.2 million)

  • according to the data chart on p.8 demographic representation percentages vs population is as follows:

Arab = representation has fallen below population percentage

Asian = representation is FAR below the population percentage

Black = representation is exceeding the population percentage

Chinese = representation is below population percentage

Mixed Race = representation is below population percentage

Other = representation is exceeding the population percentage

  • there is need for a more balanced output from publishers where books have a main character of colour; between those characters whose ethnicity is essential to the plot vs their ethnicity being incidental and normalised

  • publishers who participated in this year's research reported that 18% of books published in 2021 featured animals or non-human characters which only highlights that animals and non-human character-led children's books outnumber representing some human character-led ethnic minority books by a significant amount [Nicci: !]

  • at times the range of Black or other minority background presence is problematic and poorly executed, or is too insignificant to carry any weight

  • representation of 'racially minorities groups' in books according to text type:

Picture book = up 13%

Non-fiction = up 41%

Fiction = up 3%

  • highlighted examples of good practice:

​Picture books

  1. Lulu and Zeki series by Anna McQuinn illustred by Ruth Hearson/Rosalind Beardshaw (Alanna Max)

  2. The Boys by Lauren Ace, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie (Little Tiger Press)

  3. We're Going to Find the Monster! by Malorie Blackman, illustrated by Dapo Adeola (Puffin)

  4. Hey You! by Dapo Adeola, illustrated by Various (Puffin)


  1. Escape: One Day We Had To Run by Ming & Wah, illustrated by Carmen Vela (Lantana)

  2. We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Colour Protecting the Planet by Dr Mya-Rose Craig, illustrated by Sabrina Khadija (Magic Cat)

  3. Black and British: An Illustrated History by David Olusoga, illustrated by Jake Alexander and Melleny Taylor (Macmillan)

  4. Protest!: How people have come together to change the world by Alice and Emily Haworth-Booth (HarperCollins)

N.B. it was found that at times some non-fiction titles submitted by publishers not only under-represented certain demographic groups, but that they actually mis-represented them, particularly figures from Arab backgrounds [Nicci: !]


  1. The Last Gate Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel David Makonnen (Scholastic - US title brought to the UK market)

  2. Happy Here by Various, illustrated by Various (Knights Of)

  3. Huda and Me by H. Hayek (Allen and Unwin - Australian title brought to the UK market)

  4. Listen, Layla by Yasmin Abdel-Mageid (Puffin - Australian title brought to the UK market)

  5. Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim (Allen and Unwin - Australian title brought to the UK market)

  6. Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Knights Of - US title brought to the UK market)

  7. Tomoko Takes the Lead by Kit Rosewater, illustrated by Sohpie Escabasse (Amulet Books - US title brought to the UK market)

  8. Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai and ...

  9. Keep It Together, Keiko Carter both by Debbi Michiko Florence (Scholastic - US title brought to the UK market)

  10. Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths by Maisie Chan, illustrated by Any Cao (Piccadilly Press)

  11. Mayhem Mission by Burhana Islam, illustrated by Farah Khandaker (Knights Of)

  12. Anisha Accidental Detective by Serena Patel, illustrated by Emma McCann (Usborne)

  13. The Planet Omar series by Zanib Mian (Hachette)

"The Ethnic categories used in the Study were drawn from the UK Census categories with appropriate extensions to these definitions to accommodate broader representations of ethnicity in literature. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of the Census definitions of ethnicity, we chose to apply these to allow us to draw meaningful parallels between the characters in the English population versus the characters who populate the world of books." - Source: CLPE, November 2022

What didn't I find in the report?

  • Data about the number of white authors and illustrators publishing books with a cast of characters or main character who is non-white where the author/illustrator do not have an own voices lived experience of being non-white.

  • Data table of growth/decline of ethnic minority authors and illustrators by demographic by publisher and commentary - these authors and illustrators being the role models for future children's literature creators from under-represented groups.

  • Jewish representation figures on the bar charts.

  • Research into the worrying figures about the huge gap in representation of Asians in children's publishing.

  • Reasons as to why there isn't any population data included within the demographic and population statistics from Scotland or Northern Ireland, when the report is badged a UK report.

  • The analysis framework.

  • Mention of any of the following UK picture books published in 2021: 'Luna Loves Dance' by now UK Children's Laureate Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Fiona Lumbers (Andersen Press), 'Sunflower Sisters' by Monika Singh Gangotra, illustrated by Michaela Dias-Hayes (Owlet Press)

  • Mention of any of the following UK non-fiction books published in 2021: 'The Place for Me: Stories About The Windrush Generation' by Various including Dame Floella Benjamin (Scholastic), 'The Story of Afro Hair' by K.N. Chimbiri, illustrated by Joelle Avelino (Scholastic)

  • Mention of any of the following UK fiction books published in 2021: 'Cally and Jimmy: Twintastic' by Zoe Antoniades (Andersen Press), 'Sona Sharma - Looking After The Planet' by Chitra Soundar (Walker Books), 'The Boy Who Met a Whale' by Nizrana Farook (Nosy Crow), 'Royal Rebel' by Bali Rai (Barrington Stoke), 'Children of the Quicksands' by Efua Taoré (Chicken House), 'The Time-Thief' by Patience Agbabi (Canongate), 'Maddy Yip's Guide to Life' by Sue Cheung (Andersen Press), 'Me, My Dad and The End of the Rainbow' by Benjamin Dean (Simon & Schuster), 'Aziza's Secret Fairy Door' by Lola Morayo (Macmillan), 'When The World Was Ours' by Liz Kessler (Simon & Schuster), 'Amber Undercover' by Em Norry (OUP)

My conclusions

  • I have concerns about the use of population and demographic source data the CLPE used to base their report on being over a decade old and only from England and Wales, thus the data is not a true picture of the UK as a whole. The report is entitled 'Reflecting Realities...UK Children's Literature' after all.

  • I would like transparency around who is and isn't submitting books (particularly major and key independent publishers) for consideration to know how balanced the analysis is across the children's publishing industry. The reason for this is that, perhaps like me (as demonstrated from my book list of those I wondered had made it to review stage), those who are proactive in championing representation in children's literature are coming away with a sense of a somewhat false narrative.

  • The CLPE report is a vital piece of research, and as a stand alone body of work ensures that the children's publishing industry and those who follow it continue to progress towards quality, accessible, equal and fair representation on kids bookshelves (in shops, libraries, homes, schools, basically anywhere). Not all areas of the report demonstrate an upward trend, some underrepresented groups have seen a downward trend or insignificant growth. It's great to highlight the gains, but let's make sure that we talk out loud about the losses and collectively/individually take responsibility for implementing change for the better whilst not taking our feet of the gas where we're doing well.

  • Gorgeous illustrations from Diane Ewen, always on point and delightful.

Useful links

Download your FREE copy of the report

Find out about the report's methodology

Publication date: 10 November 2022

Format: e-document

Please like this post and leave me a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts too

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