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On World Book Day, Black Characters Matter

February 27, 2019

 

 

As a black British children’s author, I’m all too familiar with issues concerning diversity (or lack thereof) in children’s literature. I’ve written about it, I’ve seen the statistics surrounding it, I continually champion the #RepresentationMatters hashtag – I get the drill.

 

Yes, it is hugely important that we challenge the publishing industry to redress the balance when it comes to delivering books featuring children of colour. But while we’re doing that, we can also champion the books that do feature black children. And what better time to do that than on World Book Day (March 7th 2019)?

 

I came close to tears (of joy) last year when I received a message from a mother, whose son had chosen to dress up as Riley – the lead character from my first book, Riley Can Be Anything – for World Book Day (image below). It served as a reminder that book characters don’t have to be internationally recognisable to be both important and impactful for young readers. 

 

 

My character, Riley – a young black schoolboy – may not be a household name like JK Rowling's Harry Potter. His image might not be instantly recognisable like the ever illusive Wally, from Martin Handford's Where’s Wally?, or the eccentric Willy Wonka from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

 

But Riley meant an awful lot to the aforementioned young schoolboy. Even with World Book Day giving children the opportunity to dress up as their favourite book character – i.e. not wear school uniform for the day – this little boy chose to don a blazer and tie, so he could look just like Riley from my story. Why? Because – as his mum told me in her message – it meant a lot to her son to see a character that reflected his image. 

 

So, this World Book Day, why not use the opportunity to celebrate characters of colour? You could dress your little one up as a black character. Or perhaps you could bring a book featuring a black character to your child’s school and offer it to their teacher as a reading suggestion.

 

In order to showcase a selection of black, female children’s characters, I embarked on a (slightly kooky) celebration of she-roes, by dressing up like them. This World Book Day, your child could do the same. 

 

Check out this selection of black children’s book characters (including my depictions of some of them) for a spot of inspiration…

 

Ada from Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

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Grace from Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

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Cody and Jay from The Colorful Adventures of Cody and Jay by Crystal Swain-Bates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Obi from The Adventures of Obi and Titi by Oyehmi Begho

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Titi from The Adventures of Obi and Titi by Oyehmi Begho

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Riley from Riley Can Be Anything (below left) / Riley Knows He Can (below right) by Davina Hamilton

 

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Jerome from Jerome and Friends: Who Am I? by Victoria Oladele 

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Penny from Penny and the Magic Puffballs by Alonda Williams

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Lola from Big Hair Don’t Care by Crystal Swain-Bates

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Swift Walker from