Tag Archives: inclusive minds

#IamCharlie – Inclusion in children’s books as a power for change

10 Jan

It is hard to respond to the events that have devastated Paris this week. Words like ‘shocking’ and ‘awful’ lose meaning and can’t sum up what has happened. I think that’s why so many people have responded with action. People have stood together in solidarity, held pencils in the air, and used hashtags like #IAmCharlie and #IAmAhmed.

The response across social media has been uplifting, inspiring, and hopeful. Cartoonists and illustrators have put pen to paper to show their support. People are thinking and discussing, showing real passion and a commitment to stand up for freedom of expression and equality. My twitter timeline is full of positivity.

A couple of the responses I’ve seen over the last few days have really chimed with me:
This illustration from Sarah McIntyre

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And Zoe’s response at Playingbythebook. She has put together a list of inclusive children’s/YA books that “might help spread understanding of what life can be like for Muslims living in the west.”
Both responses are hopeful; looking forward and celebrating literature’s power to bring change. And that’s what I want to focus on too. Because books really are windows into other worlds. The more children see and understand other cultures, religions, ideas and beliefs, the more they will understand. The more they read, the more they will empathise with others.

So my response has been to sign up to take part in a workshop looking at how to pro-actively improve authentic inclusion in children’s publishing. A Place at the Table is on Wednesday 28th January, run by Inclusive Minds, the Publishers Association, the IPG and EQUIP. Here’s the workshop description:
(A Place at the Table) will give participants the unique opportunity to come together in force to show their commitment to achieving real inclusion and diversity in children’s books. The discussion will range from the importance of access to inclusive and diverse books, to identifying the barriers, to ideas for practical and commercially sound strategies to enable the children’s book world to move forward.

The workshop is primarily for the book industry, teachers and librarians but has places for others interested in equality and inclusion. There are still places available. Come along, have a place at the table. Help make the change.

Let’s work together to get these stories told, these inclusive books published. Let’s make 2015 the year that inclusion in children’s literature and equality in choice and access become a reality. You can help make it happen. Use your voice, your keyboard, your pen or your pencil. Think about the power you have in your words and your creativity- what you choose to make, what you choose to buy, what you choose to read to your children. Above all, think of the people who are listening and watching, reading and looking. What do they need to see? What do they deserve to hear?
Make the change.

Inclusion in How to Catch a Dragon

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Following on from my Inclusive Minds call to action, I want to share something with you all. I want to tell you that I love the Albie books by Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves! In fact my whole family loves the series – for differing reasons. My daughter, Mollie, loves the concept, the adventure, the pace and the fun. My wife, Kerry, loves the story lines and text that give her so much to work with when reading aloud to Mollie. (Kerry is very good at voices!) I love them because they are hugely popular award winning books that appeal to children – not ‘just boys’ or ‘just girls’ but children– and because they are gently infiltrating mass market publishing with inclusion. It’s a tough thing to do, but Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves have worked their magic and thought about inclusion when creating these books. That is huge! Being aware of the importance of including diverse characters that reflect society is further than many authors and illustrators ever go. The fact that they have thought about it, discussed and planned and worked with their publishers and achieved some diversity of character, is much to be proud of.

Take a look:

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A female pirate and range of skin colours in Plunge into the Pirate Pool.

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How to Catch a Dragon, my favourite book from the series (so far!) A female troll – much rarer than you’d think – a lovely range of race and a celebration of libraries! “Nobody could EVER be bored in a library”. Brilliant!

Books are so important in helping children to understand the world they live in. In order to do that, books need to be truly representative of our diverse society. Every child should be able to see themselves in their books, whatever their gender, heritage and race, culture, disability, or sexual orientation. For that to happen mainstream books need to represent every child.

The result of a truly inclusive society is that you don’t notice differences. Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves have achieved this in these books. These are not ‘token diversity characters’. Share these books with a classroom of children and they won’t notice that there’s a female pirate or that there are different skin colours on show. They will be too involved in the story and the excitement of the illustrations. But those characters are there and they will be seen without being noticed. And that is a wonderful thing. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me. Because true inclusion should go unnoticed. Radical books are important in paving the way and leading by example. Then inclusive publishers take the lead and publish books that portray a truly diverse society. But when mainstream publishing houses start to follow that lead and inclusion becomes everyday and unnoticed, that is when we know we are getting somewhere. Yes these are baby steps but these baby steps are leading us firmly in the right direction.

Keep going, Caryl and Ed! Keep pushing for what you believe in and know that you are making a difference and helping to change the face of children’s publishing. And thank you to Simon and Schuster for taking steps in the right direction. Keep treading that path!

Source: Bought from our lovely local bookshop, Bags of Books.

My Inclusive Minds call to action

25 Feb

You know when you meet up with a group of like minded people and you instantly feel at home, at ease? Well on Friday I took my family to the Inclusive Minds ‘What About Me?’ event at the Imagine Festival. The whole day had that warm and special feel to it. The day was devoted to inclusion in children’s books and, although we walked in to a room of mostly strangers, before very long we felt like we belonged. We felt like that because it was entirely inclusive. Everything about the event was set up to include everyone and make everyone feel equal. And it worked beautifully.

When we arrived Ben Hawkes was working magic with a large group of children. Sprawled across the floor with felt pens and sheets of paper, Ben and The Curved House Kids team had children of all ages and abilities happily imagining and creating their own stories. Ben is a natural with kids and had them all so engaged. They were all clamouring to show him their work and chatting excitedly about what they were doing, and sharing felt pens with each other. It was a lovely welcoming atmosphere to walk in to. And it stayed that way all day.

Throughout the day there were workshop style events where children could reimagine a story and put themselves in a book. They could include themselves in popular stories like Handa’s Surprise, join in with sensory storytelling, alter character illustrations to reflect themselves, create their own comic strip with their own characters taking centre, or draw themselves and their families on a giant canvas covering the whole wall – all with the help of a team of enthusiastic and approachable illustrators. Rebecca Elliott, Jo Empson, Claudia Boldt, Trudi Esberger, Gem Ahmet, Louie Stowell, Pippa Goodhart, Eileen Browne, Jane Ray, Carol Thompson and more were all at hand to help the children to create, to see themselves in books, and to play. Because that was what it was all about. To allow children to have fun creating their own stories and putting themselves in the picture. Everyone joined in. Everyone was involved and smiling and chatting and drawing and creating. Nobody was left out of the story.

Beth Cox and Alex Strick from Inclusive Minds and all the illustrators and authors that were there to support them did an amazing job of showing the importance of inclusion through showing inclusion in practice. And it worked! During the day we met with Caryl Hart and brought her up to the event. We chatted about The Rainbow Library and the Patron of Reading scheme and the importance of books and the power of seeing yourself and the world around you in them. It was eye opening for both of us. I told her about struggling to find books with same sex parents or books that reflect the beautifully diverse classroom of children that our daughter is a part of. She told me about her efforts to get diverse characters ‘signed off’ by some publishing houses. To stand in the centre of an entirely inclusive event talking about the importance of inclusion was a very powerful thing. We could see it working around us. The proof that it is the right thing to do was everywhere.

We were all there because we care about children and how they see themselves and find themselves in their books. We were all there with the same hopes and passions. We were all included and equal. And that’s how it should be for every child. But it isn’t… yet. Children learn about the world around them by seeing it and reading about it in their books. Their acceptance of all the wonderful differences in life are developed and supported through the literature they are exposed to. But my daughter’s picture books do not reflect the world she lives in. No matter how hard I try to provide her with books that truly reflect society, the majority of books that are published have predominantly white male middle class children (or animal) characters. And then she goes to school or out into her world and sees a very different reality.

So how do we achieve inclusion in children’s books? How do we take the energy and hope and warmth from that room and put it into every child’s book? How do we convince the resistant publishing houses that it is a viable way forward? By buying smart, raising awareness in our reviews and by talking openly. By gently nudging the right people in the right direction.

As the people that buy the books (and I know you guys… you buy books!) we have the power to influence change. We should be supporting the people that are helping us find inclusive books, we should be buying these books, borrowing them from our libraries and supporting the authors, illustrators and publishers that are brave enough to create them. Go to Letterbox Library. Buy from ChildsPlay, Alanna Books, Tara Books, Frances Lincoln and Barefoot Books.

Reviewers can do a lot to raise awareness of the books that are inclusive, that do have female characters, that do show somebody other than a middle class white male.
But we should also be talking about this and raising awareness. We can help by seeing it in action, watching children’s faces as they spot a picture of a child just like them, or a family just like theirs, in a book. By realising the power and positivity that it gives them. By remembering that every child has the right to see themselves in their books, and to be seen and understood by their peers. By knowing this and talking about it with others we can remind authors and illustrators that the world around them is beautifully diverse and that perhaps they could (should?) include that in their work. Perhaps they shouldn’t be writing from an adult’s memory but instead, be writing for a child’s potential. They in turn can gently nudge their publishing houses. Because a lot of small nudges can move mountains.

It really was a wonderful day and a very important and inspiring event. I left it with a renewed sense of possibility and purpose. And I certainly wasn’t the only one!

What Are You Playing At?

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Sometimes a book comes along that makes me jump out of my seat and do a happy dance. It makes me thankful and thoughtful and incredibly grateful that there are people out there who care enough to produce books like it. Finding books like this makes the hours that I put into this blog entirely worthwhile. It makes me proud.

Today is one of those days and What Are You Playing At? is one of those books.

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This is a book that demands your attention. It is Important. It is clever and, like all the best books, it is brilliantly simple. What Are You Playing At? takes commonly used phrases that restrict children’s play with gender stereotyping, and flips them.

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Or flaps them! Lifting the flap reveals a photographic counter argument that stands loud and proud in the face of gender stereotyping and discrimination.

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Photographic proof! You can’t argue with that! Such a beautifully simple concept that will show children so much without the need for any words.

From the very first image you see on the front cover you are being shown children playing. That is it. That is the focus. Look at the front cover image. Look at the angle of that shot and the way it has been centred. The focus is very much on their smiling happy faces. Initially we don’t even notice that the boy has a doll and the girl has a plane. And that is perfect! Because children don’t notice those things and they shouldn’t notice. They should be blissfully unaware of society’s gendering of toys, they should just see toys. And smiles. And children having fun playing together. Unfortunately gender marketing is such a massive part of children’s lives and their constant bombardment with heavily gendered images means that they are aware of gender stereotyping from an early age. But it doesn’t fool them. They know that toys are toys and books like this can work magic and reinforce children’s ability to laugh in the face of gender stereotyping.

When they open up the book and start looking through the pictures, children will be able to discuss the roles that they see and laugh at the stereotyped comments. They will be able to share this book and use it to inspire their play. Children’s play is their way of learning about life and exploring their futures. Limiting their play limits their futures. What Are You Playing At? shows children that there is no need to listen to society’s gender stereotyping, no reason to limit their own play, there is nothing that they cannot do in their futures. How powerful this book could be. How inspiring and empowering. It could open up a world of discussion and exploration and imagination. Imagine if every nursery and reception class had this book in their role play areas!

A book that belongs in every library, nursery and school, I can’t tell you how happy What Are You Playing At? makes me. It gives me hope. Currently book of the month at Inclusive Minds and book of the week at Letterbox Library, you can buy a copy at a specially reduced price here. Actually… buy two – your local school or library NEEDS this!

Hurrah to Alanna Books for publishing such a wonderful book. Alanna Books is a very small independent publisher, only founded in 2006, but already well-known for producing brilliant naturally inclusive books for children (see my review of their Lulu books here). I am very proud to be able to support them and very excited to see what they create next.

Source: Kindly sent for review by Alanna Books.

‘This is Me!’ Book packs

19 Jun

After a few weeks away from the blog I am back and picking up right where I left off, with the ever-inspiring Inclusive Minds and Letterbox Library. But this time… Together! Exciting, hey?

In my previous posts I have chatted with Beth from Inclusive Minds and Fen from Letterbox Library and celebrated the amazing work they do to champion inclusive books. Now they have combined forces for a special project creating two ‘This is Me!’ book packs, one for early years

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and one for primary years.

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These book packs have been carefully selected by Letterbox Library in collaboration with Inclusive Minds to celebrate the best and brightest in inclusive children’s books. Here’s what they have to say about them:
“Bright, breezy and fun-packed. A gorgeous mix of board books and picture books. Ideal for nurturing positive attitudes to diversity and difference in the very young. Multicultural, global, images of disability and gentle challenges to gender stereotyping. A perfectly embracing collection!” (Early years book pack)
“Our celebration of diversity and ‘natural’ inclusion continues with these Real Books which have also been selected for their strong characterisations and engaging narratives.” (Primary book pack)

I am genuinely excited about these book packs. As well as a few familiar titles there are some new and intriguing books that I can’t wait to get my hands on. They look great, and they have passed the Letterbox Library and Inclusive Minds test, so I know they will be great.

The Early years pack includes:

Daddy, Papa, and Me (1056)
Mommy, Mama, and Me (1057)
Freddie and the Fairy (1401)
The Great Big Book of Families (1018)
Lulu Loves Stories + CD (1318)
Mary Had a Little Lamb (0192)
My Face Book (0012)
Max The Champion (0193)
One, Two, Three…Run! (0194)
This Is Our House + DVD (9539)
Siddharth and Rinki (9870)
The Worst Princess (0195)

And the Primary pack:

10,000 Dresses (0196)
Because Amelia Smiled (0197)
Being Ben (0198)
The Big Brother (1343)
A Bus Called Heaven (0199)
The Django (0142)
Fussy Freya (0143)
Granny Torrelli Makes Soup (8736)
Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon (0200)
Pass It, Polly (9813)
The Unforgotten Coat (0053B)
What’s Up With Jody Barton? (0201)

Over the next month or so I plan to review the early years ‘This is Me!’ book pack and the lower age range books from the primary pack. Watch this space! All the books can be bought separately from Letterbox Library. They have done all the leg work to ensure that the books they sell are truly inclusive, so if any of these titles catch your eye, visit them and reward their efforts by ordering the books from them, here.

Inclusive Minds

21 May

Beth Cox and Alexandra Strick work together under the name Inclusive Minds. Inclusive minds is a collective for all those with an interest in children’s books and diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature and are committed to changing the face of children’s books. Despite only running for a few months it is already gathering huge momentum and a reputation for quality and passion. You only have to look at their website to see the support pouring in for Beth and Alex and the work they do. Big names from the world of children’s books – Julia Donaldson, Meg Rosoff, Nick Sharratt, Joyce Dunbar – join with Letterbox Library, editors, publishers, book bloggers, librarians, teachers, lecturers, students, parents and equality campaigners such as Let Toys be Toys. It is clear to see that through Inclusive Minds, Beth and Alex have tapped into an area that people feel real passion for. And they are working hard to bring us all together, to educate and inspire, and to create some truly inclusive children’s books. Over to Beth to tell us more.

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1. Firstly, could you tell me a little bit about how Inclusive Minds came about?
Alexandra Strick and I first met when we were on the steering group for the In The Picture project. Since then we’ve worked together in a number of ways, but we wanted to formalise this, and also find a way of bringing together all the people interested in this area. We debated over a name for months, then inspiration struck Alex over coffee and a chat. We set up the website there and then.

2. What have you been involved in since creating Inclusive Minds?
We’ve only been going a couple of months, but just last week we had our first official Inclusive Minds event. We spoke at the Equip (Equality in Publishing) conference ‘Developing the Publishing Workforce‘, where, following some informal research, we spoke about the link between a diverse workforce and diverse content in children’s books. Some of the details from this research will be on our website soon.
Alex also ran an ‘Equal Measures’ seminar at the London Book Fair which had an Inclusive Minds slant. I was on the panel, which also included Fen Coles from Letterbox Library and Erica Gillingham, and the inspirational Verna Wilkins was a keynote speaker.
Alongside companies such as Letterbox Library, we are also lucky enough to work closely with other great organisations like Booktrust (to whom Alex is a regular consultant) and Child’s Play, both of whom share our passion for making books inclusive and accessible. For example, we have recently worked together to create a tactile book, designed around the needs of blind and partiality sighted children. It’s involved a lot of research to get it just right, including visits to places such as New College Worcester to get direct feedback from children themselves. Most books designed for blind and partially sighted children are individually produced, and mass-market touch and feel books are often unsuitable for these children. This will be the first mainstream book of its kind (with hopefully more to follow). The book will be included in the Booktrust Booktouch pack, as well as being sold in mainstream outlets.
We’re also editing a special edition of Write 4 Children Journal, which will be due out very soon.

3. The special edition of the Write 4 Children journal you are editing is on the theme Diversity, Inclusion and Equality in children’s writing and literature. This topic is very close to my heart. How has the process been so far?
It’s been an interesting process for both of us, and certainly a learning curve. We’ve had such a great response, so instead of the usual eight articles that are included, we’ll be having around twenty! Once we received the submissions, we had to send them off for peer review. Once the articles had been accepted, I edited them, then passed them on to Alex for additional editing and comments, and now we’re in the process of sending them back to the authors for approval and amendments. Once they come back to us, we’ll just have time for a final proofread before publication!

4. Can you give us a sneak peek at some of the topics you’ll be including?
There are a number of articles looking at gender stereotypes, a few at the representation of disabled characters. Adoption; fairy tales; cultural diversity; accessibility. As well as one looking at political and radical messages in children’s books, it’s going to be a great edition.

5. What other exciting projects do you have tucked behind your ear?
Now, that would be telling. We’re hoping to have some exciting announcements soon, but we can’t say anything just yet. We are actively seeking funding for some big projects that will really kick start our mission in changing the face of children’s books.

6. What is your great passion?
A lot of the work that Alex and I do on Inclusive Minds is currently unpaid and has to take place during the evenings and weekends, but neither of us mind that too much, because we truly love and believe in what we do – so I’d have to say that my greatest passion is my work. That and cheese.

7. What book are you in love with right now?
I’ve been raving about Maggot Moon for a good six months now, it’s an inclusive books that is very much mainstream. I also finally read A Monster Calls and have never been quite so moved by a book. The Inclusive Minds website will spotlight some of the books that we love, we just need a few more hours in the day to get the reviews online!

8. What is your hope for the future of children’s books?
I truly hope that one day, I can walk in to a book shop, pick up a book at random, and find a diverse range of characters inside. Whether that’s a same-sex family, a disabled character (who isn’t a wheelchair-user), a ‘sensitive’ boy, an independent girl, a youthful looking granny, a black or asian protagonist… the list goes on. When I’m confident that ANY mainstream children’s book can offer me that, then I’ll be happy.

Hugely inspiring stuff. Beth and Alex are working hard to make a difference and their work is already paying off and influencing how children can see themselves in their books. If you share Beth and Alex’s belief in diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature then why not show them your support by adding your name to their supporters page on their website. You can also follow them on twitter at InclusiveMindsA and InclusiveMindsB.
Thank you so much, Beth and Alex, for your time in answering these questions and for all your support for this blog. I think Inclusive Minds is a hugely important and inspiring movement and I am proud to be involved. I am very much looking forward to your edition of the Write 4 children journal and excited about what you will achieve in the future. Congratulations on such an impressive start and thank you for using your passion to bring about real change.

Change is coming

11 May

I cannot tell you how proud I am to report that I have had three (THREE!) authors/illustrators contact me in the last couple of weeks to say that they have included a female character or have changed a character’s gender in their work in progress, in direct response to my posts about the lack of female animal characters in picture books. And a couple have contacted me to say that I’ve given them something to think about for future projects.

Imagine that! I sit here tapping away at a screen, moaning about the inequality of the current situation and not only do people read my witterings, but they comment and retweet and forward and discuss. And change! My fellow book-stroker @chaletfan said that my blog posts have raised “an intriguing and sort of v concerning question.” And she is Spot On with her wording there. It IS intriguing and it is inspiring people to dig through their bookshelves, their school libraries, their own work. It is concerning people enough to think and act on it. Huge thanks to everyone who has dipped in and helped. Actual change could come from a couple of blog posts, one of which was mainly written during a car journey with sporadic internet connection.

So why have I had such an overwhelming and positive reaction? Because things are already changing. Today is the first ever London Radical Book Fair, celebrating books that are “informed by inclusive/anti-discriminatory concerns or those which promote social equality or social justice”. It is also the venue for the awarding of the first ever Little Rebel Book Award, created by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and administered by the ever-inspiring Letterbox Library. What an amazing and encouraging event! Two supporters of the fair, Letterbox Library and Beth Cox from Inclusive Minds, recently challenged the publishing world to publish a book with its usual pink cover AND a gender neutral cover to compare sales. Just this week Jacqueline Wilson echoed this in The Telegraph directly challenging her publishers and the book industry as a whole to publish books with more gender neutral covers rather than the standard pink. At the same time Let Toys Be Toys have led a formidable campaign against gendered marketing and separation of toys in stores. They have had huge success with companies such as Tesco, Asda, Morissons and Boots all changing their store and online categories and product labelling.

Change is beginning. There is a real movement towards gender equality for children and it is being fought through blogs, by email, on facebook, on twitter. The digital age empowers people to stand up together for change. The toy companies are seeing the trend and are changing accordingly. So come on fellow booky peeps, let’s continue to comment and retweet and forward and discuss and maybe we can inspire change in the book world too.

If, due to my chatterings on here, just one new book makes it through to be published with a strong female animal character, I will be a very proud woman indeed!