Leila Rasheed has blogged about the importance of non-issue based children’s books featuring children from ethnic backgrounds, and why she finds it hard to write about non-white characters. http://leilarasheeddotcom.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/permission-to-write-my-experience-of-being-a-british-asian-reader-and-writer-of-childrens-books/
Tanya Byrne has written about this on the Guardian books blog where she calls for more books featuring children of colour. https://href.li/?http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/mar/20/tanya-byrne-top-10-black-characters-in-childrens-books?CMP=twt_gu
The dearth of non-white characters was raised by Dean Myers, in his article: Where are the People of Colour in Children’s Books. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/where-are-the-people-of-color-in-childrens-books.html?_r=1
And then again by his son Christopher Myers in The Apartheid of Children. https://href.li/?http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrens-literature.html
There is now an increasing debate and demand for more diversity in children’s literature to reflect our increasingly multi-ethnic and multi cultural society.
Almost thirty years ago Verna Wilkins set up Tamarind Press in an attempt to redress the lack of books with children from non-white backgrounds being published in the children’s market. But ‘mainstream’ publishers have yet to catch up, and there is clearly still a huge lack of such books.
As a British Asian, who is 100% Indian in terms of heritage, but who is essentially more British than Indian, and as a big reader during my childhood, it was always a surprise when I found a book about a child who shared my skin colour. A nice surprise. Yes, often those kids were beset by problems such as racial abuse and stereotyping, but that wasn’t a problem for me because growing up in the UK at the time did in fact necessarily involve having to face those issues to a greater or lesser degree.
What bothers me now is the fact that, as all of the above authors have pointed out, there are still very few books that feature children of colour, whether or not they are issue-based or are 'normal' non-issue based stories .
Children are growing up in a society which is far more culturally mixed and diverse. But, for today's children, not much has changed from when I grew up, in terms of seeing and reading about a diverse range of children like themselves and their friends in literature.
That’s a problem.
I completely agree with Malorie when she talks about diversity of multi-cultural voices in children’s literature being of paramount importance, not least because it would promote awareness and understanding, and tolerance.
On a personal level, as a writer, I have written books featuring all white characters. People have often said that The Long Weekend could have been written by a white Anglo-Saxon. That’s fine. I find it quite amusing. It’s my fully Indian name on the spine. In another novel, Amnesia, the main character is an English boy, but his best friend is Indian and his girlfriend is half Italian. The book I have just completed is about an Asian girl and features predominately Asian characters of different backgrounds. I don’t feel that because I’m Asian I have to write about Asian characters all the time, or that I should feel obliged to.
What’s important in children’s literature is that a diversity of characters in terms of ethnicity and culture is depicted, and that their voices are heard, and that a child is no longer surprised when they find more than one book featuring someone of their ethnicity, culture or colour. Sadly, that’s not happening yet.