Monday, 20 May 2013

#ReadItMD13 - "Diversity and Inclusivity in Children's Books"

So much awesomeness, how could you possibly miss out?
We've long been campaigners and champions of diversity and inclusivity in Children's Books and for this week's #ReadItMD13 theme we'll be taking a closer look at diverse and inclusive books, and the brilliant folk who champion them and do their very best to keep us 'in the know'.

To kick off this week we're handing over the reins to The Letterbox Library, supreme superchamp booksellers who specialise in diverse and inclusive books. If you haven't heard of them before, prepare to be impressed! Over to you, LL!

The Letterbox Library Penguin Stand (and a gorgeous Letterbox Librarian!)

“Letterbox Library is 25 years old, I thought it was older. I thought it had been here since the beginning of time. Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine what life would be like without it…This is the kind of organisation we can be proud of, a co-operative that is run by people motivated by nothing else but bringing joy and positive learning to our young. May you keep spreading the words for as long as we need words. By my reckoning that’s forever” (Benjamin Zephaniah, 2008).

Imagine our utter joy and giddiness at hearing these words from the great Zephaniah. Then, it was our 25th anniversary. This year marks our 30th. I wonder if the two single parents who set up Letterbox Library from their Hackney front room back in 1983 believed we would still be here now…

30 years ago Letterbox Library, a specialist children’s bookseller, launched with just 16 titles. Now we stock over 300. But some things haven’t changed one bit. Our aim remains exactly the same: to celebrate equality and diversity in the very best children’s books. And, we also remain a not-for-profit social enterprise and workers’ cooperative.

Letterbox Library really is in this for the passion and not for the profit. Like many children’s booksellers, we will tell you we love what we do. And that is true. But here’s where we’re different- our ultimate aim is to put ourselves out of business. The day you and I can walk into our high street bookstore and find a children’s book section which effortlessly reflects the diversity of our world and truly values every child is the day we will shut up shop- and we will do so with a glad heart and a skip in our step.

The brilliant Letterbox Library Book Tent at the recent Luton Hoo Book Festival

Letterbox Library’s children’s books show the incredible diversity of our local and global communities: they’re multicultural; they baffle gender stereotypes; they’re multi-faith; they include disabled heroes; they relish in the rich variety of our family structures; they feature people traditionally under-represented in children’s literature such as Travellers and refugees. We are also known for our books exploring ‘difficult’ issues such as family breakdown, bullying and bereavement.

We find this heady mix of books through painstaking sourcing, researching, reviewing and selecting from a wide range of both home-grown and international publishers. Helping us with this are a completely wonderful team of 25 volunteer book reviewers from diverse backgrounds; they include teachers, librarians, carers and, of course, children and young people themselves. Thankfully, they are a horribly fussy lot. Over 75% of the samples sent in by publishers are rejected by our team. The children’s book world knows us for our super-strictness and publishers tend to see the addition of their books in our catalogue/website as a stamp of approval. By the way, we balk at tokenism- if we approve a book, then that means it has been chosen not just because it fits our ethos but also because of its excellence in storyline/artwork and its strong child-appeal. Finally, we are passionate about resisting commercial trends. We want to offer all children real choices in what they read.

The utterly awesome Catherine Johnson and her book 'Stella' (OUP)

This must be the place to add that we recently became partners of the quite brilliant Inclusive Minds. They. Are. Brilliant. They’re bringing together -in one big HUG- all of those people who have a profound commitment to ensuring no child is left out of the landscape of children’s literature.

They are also contributing to this theme week so I won’t go on too much about them here. Oh- and also I should mention that Letterbox Library was very privileged this year to run the 1st ever Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for radical children’s fiction. We did this on behalf of the stupendous Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) and ReadItDaddy blogged about it here:

Celebrate Equality and Diversity at the first ever "Little Rebels Children's Book Awards", coming to the London Radical Bookfair

I promised I would suggest some Top Inclusive Books. Obviously, narrowing the choices down is a completely impossible task, so please just see these as stepping stones for bigger, brighter inclusive book collections:

For the Very Young

  • Deron Goes to Nursery / Grandma Comes to Stay: smashing 1st experience photographic books which just happen to be set in modern Ghana.
  • Man’s Work: a bestseller of ours; dad and son do the housework…
  • Daddy, Papa and Me; Mommy, Mama, and Me: 2 boardbooks bouncing with the joys of a same-sex parent family.
  • Blankies/Snug: dinky, perfectly formed boardbooks with an open door policy for all toddlers!
  • Tuck Your Vest In: a comic caper about 1st day at a (multicultural) Welsh nursery.
  • My Mum is a Firefighter/My Nanny Tracey: ‘real’ women role models.
  • Freddie & the Fairy: a hearing-impaired fairy gets a child’s wishes a little muddled…

For Primary Aged Children

  • The Silence Seeker and Azzi In Between: skillful and brilliant stories about asylum seekers
  • Not All Princesses Dress in Pink: it’s all in the title!
  • Donovan’s Big Day: our first lesbian wedding picture book.
  • Olaudah Equiano: a Black British hero portrayed by Manchester schoolchildren.
  • A Donkey Reads: a traditional Turkish tale (warning- belly deep laughs - and a ReadItDaddy recommendation too!)
  • The Art of Miss Chew: a dyslexic protagonist masters her art classes.
***you can find all of these books & more here: ***

Phew! Now for just a little plea. Letterbox Library is known for its book selection process. This book selection is entirely funded by our book selling. And, as I’ve said, a great many education professionals give up their time to support this selection by reviewing our books. We want to offer people who share our passion a good service so we want to offer you great selections enhanced by easily searchable ‘themes’ on our website and in our catalogue.

We also know that every time we put out a new theme or booklist or recommended reads, we run the risk of someone using our sourcing and selection expertise to shop elsewhere. All we would say is, please bank your money with the people who genuinely care about children’s literature and who need your custom to survive- if not us, then your favourite indie. Perhaps you already do this, in which case please forgive the plea. Thank you, ReadItDaddy for your tireless support of indie bookselling and for this opportunity to gush and waffle about lovely inclusive things.

 - Well, thank YOU Letterbox Library for kicking off our Diversity and Inclusivity week with a fantastic and thought provoking post. Please do take the time to check out the Letterbox Library website and please take to heart the text in red above because it pretty much underlines why folk like Letterbox Library are so important to children's books.