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World Book Day: The mum who is tackling the lack of diversity of characters in children's books

As is tradition on World Book Day this Thursday, children will sport the outfits of their favourite fictional characters.

In the process, they will inadvertently display a desperate lack of diversity in youth literature.

A study by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education found of the 9,115 children’s books published in the UK in 2017, only 391 featured black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) characters – equating to 4% of all books published.

1% of these books had a BAME main character – while 32% of schoolchildren are of BAME origin.

Lynsey Pollard became fed up by this lack of diversity while reading to her five-year-old.

Her frustration led to setting up a company called Little Box of Books, which offers subscription boxes of books that showcase characters from a range of backgrounds.

“Having diversity in children's books means that all children feel normal, they get to see their family in the pages of a children's book and that's just brilliant, because if you've got two mums, you want to feel like that's a normal thing to have, you don't always want to look at children’s books and feel different”, Ms Pollard told ITV News.

A group of parents, children and teachers reading from a subscription box. Credit: ITV News

Feeling out of place can often happen on World Book Day where children are encouraged to dress up as their favourite characters.

“If there is a lack of representation in children's books and they want to dress up as their own ethnicity and they're not white, they're going to really struggle to find characters that they can dress up as”, explained Ms Pollard.

“We wanted to showcase a load of books that gave them the opportunity find characters that they could look like - that they could dress up as - they can dress up as anyone they want, it's just about giving children more choice.”

391
BAME characters across 9,115 children's books published in UK in 2017
4%
of children's books published in UK in 2017 featured BAME characters
1%
of children's books published in UK in 2017 had a BAME main character

Danielle Sam-York, a schoolteacher at Jubilee Primary School in Tulse Hill, south London told ITV News that the initiative is exactly what her children need.

“I think this is brilliant, especially working in an inner city London school, it is what they need, it's the books that I didn't have when I was growing up and it's the books that they can relate to - especially a school in the middle of Tulse Hill estate and it's just something that 'oh actually that's me in the book, or that's mum in the book and that's what I do normally so I think it's really important for the children and important for them to see themselves in literature.”

Juniper Juniper is a book included in the subscription box. Credit: ITV News

Ms Pollard has put together a list of books with BAME main characters, together with some costume ideas to help parents prepare costumes for the event.

  • Juniper Jupiter from ‘Juniper Juniper’ by Lizzy Stewart

A story about a young boy who sees ladies dressed as mermaids going to a parade and wants to look like them.

  • Julian from 'Julian is a Mermaid' by Jessica Love

A red striped t-shirt, some yellow shorts, some spotty leggings and a red cape and you’re all set for some superhero adventures with Juniper.

  • Molly from 'Molly Rogers Pirate Girl' by Cornelia Funke and Kasia Matyjaszek

Molly is a swashbuckling pirate which makes her a great character to dress as.

  • Izzy from 'Izzy Gizmo' by Pip Jones and Sarah Ogilvie

A smart inventor comes up with all kinds of ideas to help her crow friend fly, with varying levels of success

  • Errol from ‘Errol’s Garden’ by Gillian Hibbs

Errol loves gardening. The rooftop garden he creates on the top of his high rise attracts all sorts of helpers. All you need is jeans and a red t-shirt, some cardboard glasses and you have a costume.