Exceptional Education at the Heart of the Community

The Importance of Diversity and Representation in our Children’s Books
The Importance of Diversity and Representation in our Children’s Books

For over two decades, I have been a primary school teacher and have welcomed the increased focus on the importance of promoting diversity and representation in our children’s books.  Having started my career in a school where pupils’ ethnicity was identified as predominantly white-British, I saw first-hand how limited some children’s experiences of ethnicity, culture, beliefs and equality can be without an intentional approach to broaden them. In my opinion, often this lack of experience and representation can lead to a lack of understanding and appreciation of diversity, which can foster discriminatory behaviour and potentially prejudicial views. Therefore, I have always been passionate about widening pupils’ perspectives, valuing children’s books to facilitate this. This approach is reflected in the intentional shaping of the Oasis curriculum to develop not only a deep understanding of ourselves as individuals, but also to understand, respect and appreciate others.

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are at the heart of the Oasis ethos where everyone is welcomed, celebrated, valued and supported to fulfil their God given potential. Everyone has the right to be comfortable in who they are and an integral part of this is for our young people to accept themselves as valued individuals.  How is this possible if they do not see themselves represented in the environment around them? 

In a world filled with diversity and unique perspectives, it is crucial for children to be exposed to literature that reflects the rich tapestry of human experiences and identities. Books have the power to shape young minds, instil empathy, and broaden horizons, so by providing children with a diverse range of characters and stories, we can teach them the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion from an early age. Through these texts, we can also extend their experiences and perspectives beyond their ‘lived experiences’ to support them in developing the tools to navigate a diverse and multi-cultural society with respect and understanding.

Research by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), through their annual ‘Reflecting Realities’ survey reports, as well as titles including ‘The Power of a Rich Curriculum (2020)’ and their latest publication with Farrah Serroukh, ‘Representation in Children’s Literature – Reflecting Realities in the Classroom (2024)’ has shown that representation in children’s literature matters and highlights the need for more diverse representation in children’s books to better reflect the multicultural society of the UK. . Joseph Coelho (Children’s Laureate 2022-24) in the foreword of CLPE’s most recent book, Representation in Children’s Literature – Reflecting Realities in the Classroom (2024), states that their work, “…is life changing and essential. It goes beyond merely allowing children to see…themselves in books, it speaks to the very nature of the society we need to create.”  Studies reveal that when young people encounter characters that mirror their identities, they are empowered with a greater sense of belonging, experience increased self-esteem, and develop a deeper appreciation for diversity.  This no doubt has great significance for children who come from underrepresented communities that do not often see themselves reflected in mainstream narratives or media.  However, Book Trust’s report in partnership with Dr Melanie Ramdarshan, Representation of People of Colour Among Children’s Book Creators in the UK (2019), recognises representation and diversity in books as a valuable tool in supporting all children to feel accepted, develop empathy and understand one another, “not just those from ethnic minority background, and is an important factor in children’s motivations to read.” Therefore, it is vital that all members of our communities are represented within our environments, curriculum and books to ensure that everyone feels seen and valued, as well as a sense of pride in their own identity, allowing them to feel confident in the person that they are or are becoming.

In addition, exposure to diverse characters and stories in our children’s books can help young people to develop empathy and understanding towards others, including developing their cultural awareness, often fostering more positive attitudes towards individuals from different backgrounds. By reading about characters who have different experiences, cultures, and identities, children can learn to appreciate and celebrate diversity, nurturing a culture of acceptance and inclusivity within our communities. In achieving this, we can fulfil our vision of wanting our pupils to “be other-centred and celebrate difference.”

Furthermore, inclusive children’s literature serves as a powerful tool for challenging stereotypes and promoting social justice. By showcasing diverse characters in positive and empowering roles, authors can help break down these stereotypes and biases, and facilitate a more inclusive and equitable society aligned with the values of the Oasis 9 habits and underpinning ethos.

Another key benefit of diverse representation in children’s books is its ability to encourage a sense of curiosity and openness towards the world.  When children are exposed to stories from different cultures and perspectives, they learn to appreciate the richness and complexity of the world around them. However, these benefits extend beyond individual pupils to the wider community.  As young readers grow and develop with a rich range of representations within their books, they become advocates for inclusivity and social change.  By embracing diverse narratives, children learn to appreciate the beauty of difference and diversity, paving the way for a more accepting and harmonious community. In essence, children can “be inspired to improve the world around them” and facilitate change for the better.

In conclusion, the significance of equality, diversity and inclusion in children’s literature is undeniable and has a profound impact on children’s development and well-being. By providing children with books that represent and reflect the rich diversity of human experiences, we can promote positive self-image and a true sense of inclusion and belonging, as well as develop empathy, understanding and a sense of social justice. By championing diverse representation in children’s books, we sow the seeds for a more tolerant, compassionate, and inclusive society that celebrates the uniqueness of every individual – empowering future generations and making the world a better place.

The Importance of Diversity and Representation in our Children’s Books
Jemma Limbani