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If Children Don’t See Themselves in Books, How can they Feel Fully Included in Literature?

If children never see themselves in books, how can they feel fully included in the world of literature, asks Joanna De Guia…

Joanna De Guia
by Joanna De Guia
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I was the child in the class who consumed books greedily, as if they might run out. I always had several on the go and especially enjoyed fantasy series like The Lord of the Rings.

As a bookish teenager looking for my place in the world, the opportunity to escape the harshness of school existence was priceless.

However there was something else that I looked for which I never found (except perhaps in Judy Blume), and that was something which showed me myself.

I didn’t exist anywhere in any fiction for young people.

I appeared to exist, because to anyone looking in from the outside I was a white British middle-class girl and there were heaps of books about me.

But as a white Jewish British middle-class girl there was nothing I recognised at all. The only mention of me was in relation to the Holocaust. Jews only existed when someone was trying to kill them.

Just like my gay friends, with whom I hung out at break, if you judged by what you could see, we were apparently catered for – but when you scratched below the surface we weren’t as like these characters as we seemed.

Working for change

So, when I learnt about Inclusive Minds, I was delighted that something was being done and determined to get involved.

As a bookseller with an interest in diverse children’s literature, I was keen to attend their regular discussion workshop, A Place At The Table – and after I’d closed my bookshop and started working as a school librarian at Hackney New School, I finally managed this.

Better still, since the 2018 event included a ‘forum session’ with young Ambassadors, I was able to involve two students from my school.

Suddenly I was in a room with people who were solely focusing on ensuring that all children’s stories were going to be told.

Even more excitingly, people in positions of power within the industry were going to ensure the authenticity of these stories, and involve young people in doing so.

The two female students I brought were 14 and 15. One was mixed-race and gay, and the other was black. One was bookish and one was not.

They said they had never talked for that long and in that much depth to adults they didn’t already know. They felt that the adults genuinely wanted to know about them as young people and they were quite surprised at how important that was.

They felt seen. Completely.

More to do

Last year the CLPE Report, Reflecting Realities, came out, confirming the shocking fact that a mere 4% of children’s books published in 2017 featured a BAME or disabled child.

And when looked at in conjunction with Dr Ramdarshan Bold’s report, The Eight Percent Problem: Authors of Colour in the British Young Adult Market (2006–2016), which drilled down into statistics to uncover the even smaller number of UK Authors of Colour published in this country, it is very clear that many UK young readers are still missing themselves in stories; still, 37 years after I failed to discover myself in my local library and bookshop.

These kids are invisible. This tells them that their stories are not worth sharing, that they have no stake in literary culture, that they don’t count.

Inclusive Minds and their Young Inclusion Ambassadors are at the frontline of the battle to change all of this.

We can all help by spreading the word about this important initiative and encouraging more young people to join. And we need to do this, so that nobody ever has to be invisible ever again.

More information can be found at

Joanna De Guia is a part-time secondary school librarian in Hackney, and a part-time publishing professional. She had her own children’s bookshop in Hackney for 12 years.

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