In research funded by Arts Council England, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education published a report which showed that only 1% of children’s books feature protagonists who are BAME. This statistic really grabbed people’s attention on Twitter and became a national headline, but for those who were already familiar with this problem, the research did not come as a surprise.
Enter Knights Of, a publishing company founded by Aimée Felone and David Stevens. They have spent the past year championing change within children’s publishing, focusing on books which are diverse and inclusive. To celebrate their 1st birthday they set up a pop-up shop in Brixton, using the hashtag #ReadTheOnePercent on social media. It was a small space which they filled with books, books and more books. And what a shop it was. The white furniture and walls allowed the colourful book covers to pop. When I walked in, I didn’t know where to look first.
As a child, I remember reading one book in which there was a character who ‘looked like me’ – it was called I Live in Tokyo by Maria Takabayashi, about a young girl who taught the reader about her life in Japan and the Japanese words that she used every day. I still remember it because I felt like it was speaking directly to me. As an adult I’ve realised how damaging a lack of representation can be for a child’s confidence levels – it conditions you to see yourself as ‘other’, and that’s why I really hope things can change for the next generation.
I visited the Knights Of pop-up bookshop on the last day of their week-long project, and Aimée and David both told me that they were so happy and so tired. The pop-up had been a resounding success. All week on Twitter they were posting about children who had been excitedly spotting new books to read and adults who had wept with joy.
I bought a copy of Jason Reynold’s For Every One – it’s so bright and colourful! I can’t wait to read it. It came with a little pin badge and a tote bag too.
A big thanks to the Knights Of team for such a great day! It was so much fun to visit and perfect for present-shopping. I’m looking forward to hearing the results from a poll which they put out to see if people would be interested in this pop-up becoming a regular feature, perhaps even travelling around the UK. Now that sounds brilliant!
Naomi | 直美