Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature

How many black or minority ethnic characters are there in children’s books?

We want children to be confident, happy and enthusiastic readers and writers. But this can only happen if the books children read resonate with them. For some children, this isn’t a problem but for others, books that represent who they are, their identities, their cultural heritage and their lived experiences are in short supply.

In short, black and minority ethnic characters are significantly under-represented in books. How do we know this?

In early 2018 the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) launched a new study into ethnic representation in children’s literature.

Reflecting Realities looked at children’s books published in the UK in 2017 to establish how many featured BAME (Black or minority ethnic) characters.

The findings are eye-opening and don’t make for good reading:

  • There were 9115 childrens books published in the UK in 2017. Of these only 391 featured BAME characters
  • Only 4% of the childrens books published in 2017 featured BAME characters
  • Only 1% of the childrens books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character
  • Over half the fiction books with BAME characters were defined as ‘contemporary realism’(books set in modern day landscapes/contexts)
  • 10% of books with BAME characters contained ‘social justice’ issues
  • Only one book featuring a BAME character was defined as ‘comedy’
  • 26% of the non-fiction submissions were aimed at an ‘Early Years’ audience

The report noes that the Department for Education reported in 2017 that 32.1% of pupils of compulsory school age were of minority ethnic origins. Yet children’s books were found wanting – only
1% of children’s books had a BAME main character and a quarter of the books submitted only featured BAME presence in the form of background characters.

To find out more including recommendations for publishers please download the report from the Reflecting Realities project page


Take a look at their free recommended teaching sequences for Early Years to Year 6:

We like to think of ourselves as a diverse society and richly interconnected. We even talk about it as if we are but this report is a start reminder that we are aren’t as far forward as we should be.

When I first started my teaching career in the London borough of Brent, the most ethnically diverse place in Britain, books for black and minority ethnic children was not a problem. Brent resourced their schools superbly. So, the books are out there and I’m convinced that schools and authorities could do much, much more to make sure that their libraries are truly serving everyone.

The report is a jolt publishers and schools need especially in the climate of marginalisation. Normalising the breadth of perspectives and realities of all our children has to be prioritised because redressing imbalances “is not an act of charity but an act of necessity that benefits and enriches all of our realities.”

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