Tag Archives: inclusive publishing

Young Ambassadors for diversity and inclusion

21 Apr

I’m making the assumption that if you read this blog you are already on board with the fact that inclusive and diverse books are groovy and important things. I figure you know that they can, and will, help the next generation change the world. And that’s why I want to share this campaign for Young Ambassadors by Inclusive Minds. They want to develop a network of young ambassadors with real experience of marginalisation (in all areas of diversity), who will share their knowledge with the book world. They will be the ace team who comment on ideas and manuscripts and help authors and the children’s publishing industry to create authentic diverse voices. This project has already been successfully piloted and will help to dramatically improve authenticity in books and give young people a real voice in the children’s book world. But they need our help.

Inclusive Minds is a not-for-profit collective who work with the children’s publishing industry to push for more inclusive and diverse characters and stories. They are awesome and they are making a real difference. Their crowdfunding campaign to roll out their Young Ambassadors campaign only has 8 days left and they need help to reach their target. There are some incredible perks on offer, like signed artwork and books, an hour’s consultation with Inclusive Minds for your writing and a ticket to the next Children’s Laureate ‘unveiling ‘. Even if you can’t contribute financially at the moment, please have a read of their plan – it might be something that can help the authors/creators among us – and consider sharing it.

I know times are hard but this campaign could make a huge difference to the books that the next generation are reading, showing them a wider more inclusive world view and helping them grow up to be empathetic and awesome human beings. Plus, end of month pay day is coming up and should fall within the last few days of the campaign.

Have a look here. Be a part of the mission to change the world, one book at a time.

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.

Letterbox Library

17 May

In the first of my posts celebrating the world of radical and inclusive books, I am shining a sparkly spotlight on Letterbox Library. Letterbox Library is a not-for-profit children’s bookseller celebrating equality and diversity. They have recently been involved with the London Radical Bookfair and ran the Little Rebel Children’s Book Award on behalf of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers.

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I first came across Letterbox Library when I started blogging about quality and equality in children’s books. I was impressed by their range, their not-for-profit status and, most importantly, their ethos. It was when I set up The Rainbow Library that my relationship with Letterbox Library really came to play. They became my go-to-pals for all things equality and diversity related. When I needed advice on books to support specific children they pinged examples straight at me through the twittersphere. I have since used their wonderful books with children from the Rainbow Library and I can already see them working their magic. Their website is full of brilliant engaging books and book packs to fit every radical and inclusive need. I also highly recommend following them on twitter and joining in the fun. You can expect tweets about great books, links to articles that will make you think, radical and inclusive industry news and events, and kind, funny, inclusive chat. And quite a few tweets about truffles!

So pop the kettle on, sit back with a cuppa (and a box of truffles) and be inspired by Fen from Letterbox Library.

1. Firstly, could you tell me a little bit about how Letterbox Library came about?
30 years ago, two like-minded, single mums got together for a chat. They were concerned about the children’s books available to their daughters. Very few reflected their family lives and just as few showed girls in exciting, active roles. An idea was born…but after sharing their thoughts with their friends, they realised the idea needed to get bigger. The children’s books available on the UK high street simply weren’t reflecting most people’s lives. Ultimately, an idea became a passion which became a business plan and, in 1983, in a front room in Hackney, these same two women set up a book club specialising in anti-sexist, multicultural and inclusive children’s books. The first Letterbox Library catalogue had just 16 books to choose from!

These days, we stock over 300 books on our website and in our catalogue but our aims remain the same as in 1983: Letterbox Library is committed to celebrating equality and diversity in the very best children’s books. We believe that challenging stereotypes and discrimination should play a fundamental part in every child’s education and that we all, as adults, share a collective responsibility for making each and every child feel valued, regardless of their background or abilities.

Letterbox Library is genuinely in this for the passion and not for the profit. We are an unfunded, not-for-profit, social enterprise and workers’ cooperative. We sell books to fund the extensive sourcing, selection and reviewing work we do. Once you no longer buy our books, we will know you no longer need someone to seek these books out for you; you will simply be able to walk into your high street bookstore and find books which reflect all children’s lives. We all look forward to that day…

2. When did you first hear about the Little Rebel Book Award and what was your reaction?
In late 2012, Letterbox Library signed themselves up as members of a relatively new umbrella organisation, the Alliance of Radical Booskellers. In August 2012, Nik Gorecki, co-manager of Housmans Bookshop (Kings Cross, London) contacted us to ask if we would consider running a children’s book prize parallel to their existing adult prize, entitled Bread and Roses. Needless to say, we were very excited. Letterbox Library has, since its earliest days, specialised in ‘issue’ books alongside its inclusive books. We are just as likely to sell a book which is casually diverse- for example incorporating a same-sex couple within the story- as we are to sell a book which is explicitly anti-discriminatory- for example a book which tackles homophobic bullying head on. So, we positively embraced the idea of an award celebrating radical children’s literature. We met up with Nik a mere 7 days after his first enquiry and the rest is herstory, as they say…The Little Rebels Award feels like a perfect ‘fit’ for us and we are very proud indeed to have been asked to oversee its inception and its administration.

3. 69 books submitted by 20 publishers is a positive and uplifting response. How on earth did you whittle it down to the four short listed books?
The response was very uplifting for a first award. It wasn’t always an easy task getting the numbers down and there was also the added difficulty of comparing very different types of books. For this 1st year we restricted submissions to fiction (only) within the 0-12 age range but it’s still no easy task to compare a baby boardbook with, say, a chapter book for ages 10 and above! Having said that, this picking and choosing is right up our street! Letterbox Library is probably more famous as a book selector than as a book seller* so we are very much in the shortlisting business already. Just for our own catalogue/website, we reject over 75% of the publisher samples sent our way! We also benefit enormously from our team of 25 volunteer book reviewers (teachers, nursery workers, children etc.). A number of the books submitted to us for the Little Rebels Award had already been submitted to Letterbox Library previously (for our own shelves) which meant they had already received invaluable feedback from our volunteers. So in the end we were as rigorous as we would always be: we had a set of Little Rebels submission guidelines to refer to, we had our own and other reviewers’ feedback to draw on; we had 2 meetings to create a ‘middle list’ and then a 3rd to produce a final shortlist of 4. Phew.
* this is why people sometimes forget that we need to sell our books to survive; instead, they use our selection knowledge and then buy elsewhere!

4. What has been the best thing about the Little Rebel Award process?
The Little Rebels Award has created a real buzz about radical children’s literature. We love the attention it has received from book bloggers, on twitter, within the print press (even the traditionally rather conservative children’s trade press) as well as amongst teachers, librarians, adults and children. It’s not just been picked up on by people interested in anti-discriminatory practise or socialist thinking. There is also a broader appetite at the moment for children’s books which are a bit different, which are more than a tv spin off or part of an endless sparkly series or the product of a ‘creative’ marketing team rather than the creation of an actual author…and the Little Rebels Award, very naturally, picks up on these interesting, stand alone titles.

5. Apart from truffles, what is your great passion?
Did someone mention truffles?
I know you might be expecting this, but I really am passionate about this work. This job feels like it brings so much of my thinking together. Before Letterbox Library I worked for many years in the the charity sector, largely with vulnerable groups- survivors of homophobic violence, sexual violence and domestic violence. I also spent many years doing education advice with prisoners. Like many others, I have seen the worst ‘excesses’ of prejudice. And, like many others, I believe children are born without prejudice and that they have a deeply developed sense of fairness (and, consequently, injustice) from a very young age. I do not think it’s naive to believe there will be a world which is fair and free from discrimination and I do believe that the best way to achieve this is to nurture the minds that will bring this about. Books and stories are a natural and joyful part of this process.
I am also, genuinely, pretty passionate about truffles.

The Killer Question – What is your favourite truffle flavour
Coffee. With just a sprinkling of cocoa. And minimum 70%. With a large glass of white wine. See? Not hard at all!

6. What book are you in love with right now?
Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell. We’re about to start importing this fab picture book from the US. Molly Melon’s Grandma tells her that in her day, there were no fancy shop toys about- you had to make your own. So that’s exactly what Molly does. Molly is completely unhampered by gender restrictions, as happy in her homemade dollhouse as she is in her homemade racing car. And, she is thoroughly unimpressed with her new neighbour’s expensive brand-name toys, inviting her to share hers instead. This book is a spirited, joyful, implicitly anti-capitalist, ode to adventure-loving girls which also, and very unselfconsciously, stars a disabled character (the neighbour, Gertie). It’s pretty much got it all and it puts a skip in my step.

7. What is your hope for the future of children’s books?
What I hope is that one day, we will be able to close up shop and go out of business. We will be able to do that because me and you will be able to pop into our high street bookshops and easily find a) children’s books which value every child by allowing every child to see themselves in the stories they read, as well as b) books which introduce them, respectfully and positively, to the lives of children who are different to them.

Wow! If you haven’t been inspired by that, then you are reading the wrong blog. Such passion and belief in the power and possibility of change is what puts a skip in my step, so thank you, Fen, for agreeing to do this post and for being so open and generous with your time. I am looking forward to Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon – it sounds like you’ve found a corker. The mention of people using you as a selector rather than a seller is very interesting. I am always very excited when I see books you’ve recommended to me at the library. It makes me feel like we are really progressing as a society. But I very rarely see them in shops and, for me, that is where you are worth your weight in gold. Anyone whose dream is to go out of business has a core belief structure to be proud of. I am also very pleased to see that you take truffles as seriously as we do here at RhinoReads. We salute you. Truffles all round!

My daughter is not a penguin

16 May

It’s no secret that I am passionate about books. I strongly believe that books play a vital part in finding and creating your identity. Picture books help children learn about themselves and their place in the world. The images they see in picture books help them make sense of the world – who is in it, how it works.

As a gay parent I find it disappointing and frustrating that there are not more children’s books with images of same sex families. My daughter is being raised by two mums but she doesn’t see herself or her family in her books. Books like And Tango Makes Three are hugely important in normalising same sex relationships and providing children with a positive introduction to different families. But my daughter is not a penguin.

I long for more books including (preferably human) same sex families to share with my daughter and her friends. I would love to nonchalantly give her a book where she can stumble upon an illustration of her family, just there in the background, normal, real. She is confident and self-assured and happy with who she is and her place in her family, but I think it would be hugely empowering for her to see herself and her family represented in her books.

I do feel that, thanks to radical and inclusive publishing, that day is getting closer. Radical books are a hugely important way to raise awareness and fight for specific rights or causes. Radical books bring issues and differences into peoples minds, homes and classrooms. Radical books kick down the barriers and pave the way for others to follow. And when those paths are laid and the different is less scary, inclusive publishing steps in. And, for me, that is when the magic happens. Incidental inclusion in children’s books is vital in supporting children’s view of themselves and the world around them. Books which seamlessly reflect a child’s life and society in all it’s diversity are powerful things. They can support and change people’s view of the world.

So over the next week or so I will be waving the flag for radical and inclusive books. I will review some great books, celebrate the first Little Rebel Children’s Book Award, interview some really inspiring people involved in getting radical and inclusive books into the world and our homes, libraries and classrooms, and I’ll be posting some radical and inclusive illustrations. And who knows, maybe through the process I will find a few more books representing my wonderful family. Watch this space…