We asked two publishers to share their perspectives on their role in supporting a diverse and inclusive English curriculum.
Ben Horslen, Publisher for Penguin Random House Children’s, shares his views on the importance of representing all children in the words and pictures published:
At Penguin Random House Children’s, our ambition is to publish a book for every child, and ensuring that our list is diverse and inclusive is absolutely central to that goal.
As a children’s publisher, we have the privilege of helping kids take their earliest steps into reading. We want those steps to be the first of a journey – the start of a lifelong connection with the written word – and that connection is only possible if our readers see and feel themselves represented in the words and pictures that we publish.
So, in the Puffin 6+ Fiction team where I work, we have been focusing hard recently on expanding our publishing into areas we have hitherto failed to explore and serve. Books like Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World challenge the Western-centric notion that world-changing figures must be Christian and white; Free To Be Me offers empowering support to young readers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community; while the forthcoming A Different Sort of Normal delivers an insightful exploration of what life can be like for a child growing up with a neurodiverse condition.
On the visual side, editors and designers are striving to think more inclusively when it comes to illustration, ensuring that characters’ cultures are shown accurately and respectfully, and actively seeking opportunities to represent disabled characters, who have long been almost completely absent from the pages of kids’ books.
The work is urgent and overdue, and we still have a long way to go, but for the first time it feels like there is a genuine, industry-wide acceptance that we must do better, and that publishers must be a part of the drive to create a more inclusive society. And that has to be a good thing.
Pearson has recently partnered with Penguin to support UK schools in diversifying their English Literature by joining Lit in Colour - a programme launched by Penguin and The Runnymede Trust in 2020 to explore how to increase UK students’ access to books by writers of colour and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, and ensure English Literature better reflects contemporary culture and society.
Lisa Stephenson, Director and Co-founder of The Story Makers Company, and Ana Sanches de Arede, Press Publisher, talk about the importance of voice, lived experience and inclusive storytelling in publishing:
Making stories is a way to explore new unimagined possibilities. Stories make sense of our experiences and help us imagine possible futures. Yet, many children do not have the opportunities to see themselves, their experiences, communities, and their cultures reflected in the stories around them. This is particularly true within the children’s publishing industry, where conversations around diversity and inclusion routinely crop up, often without many long-term changes to the wider landscape.
The recent CLPE and BookTrust Represents reports have been largely responsible for restarting these industry conversations and it feels like we are witnessing a slow shift towards attempting systemic change. Small independent publishers, such as Tiny Owl, Lantana and Knights Of, among others, have been leading the way, focusing on quality, own voices representation, while organisations such as Inclusive Minds have been working hard across the industry to place lived experience at the heart of inclusive storytelling.
It was thinking about voice, lived experience and inclusive storytelling that led us to create Story Makers Press. Story Makers Press is part of Story Makers Company, a research and social enterprise centre in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.
Our aim for the Press is to engage young people in the story and book making process, placing their voices and experiences at the heart of it and making sure that they feel seen and heard. We use drama and storytelling with children to get them to explore different narratives with us, which we then transform into engaging fiction books. We also produce Explorer’s Guides to accompany each one of our books which encourage teachers to explore these stories further with their children, supporting them to develop their emotional literacy skills, imaginative freedom, wellbeing and a sense of community. We have published three books with underrepresented children so far and continue to work with young people to make stories that matter.
For more information on The Story Makers Company at Leeds Beckett University, visit www.storymakersco.com, @storymakersCo @lisa_stephenso, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Press team: Lisa Stephenson, Ana Sanches de Arede and Tom Dobson).