I was in a very lovely bookshop this morning looking for picture books that represent the wonderful variety in this genre of children’s publishing. After my positive experience with the WI audition (see previous post on ‘Inspiring the WI’) I realised that I didn’t have nearly enough books (enough books is definitely an oxymoron!). So I was searching for some variety. I was looking for books of different forms, pop-up books and ‘feely’ books in particular on this occasion, but also books with a variety of content and different illustrative styles.
I especially asked to see books with different characters. A veritable wealth of animal books was displayed before me; every shade and size of bear (sooooo many bears), lions, mice, lizards, butterflies, cows… There are even books about vegetables. I have a very soft spot for Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea (Morag Hood, Two Hoots Books). This is itself a book which celebrates the joys and challenges of variety and difference.
Where, oh where then is the variety in the books with human characters? The valiant bookseller went in search of her ‘diversity’ section where we did find some beautiful books with non-white human characters. I was really pleased to find several great books that were not ‘about’ diversity but just told a great story. Sadly, it was even harder to find books with non-able bodied characters or illustrations.
I felt sad. The other books in the shop are not segregated into their own section of ‘books about bears’ or ‘books featuring carrots’. How sad that we should need a section for ‘books featuring non-white/non-able bodied children’. We definitely need more variety in the characters that feature in picture books. I see plenty of variety in animal characters. Human characters should mirror the variety in the people passing by and browsing in book shops. All shapes, sizes, colours, abilities, interests. All of them should be reflected. But they should be present on all the shelves so that every shelf is ‘diverse’, like life.