Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue

Books aimed at children and young adults are still too white and should include more characters from ethnic minorities, according to the Children's Laureate.

Malorie Blackman said the landscape of children's literature did not reflect the cultural diversity of young people in the UK, an imbalance that may discourage ethnic minority children from reading, and from writing books themselves. Her comments gained immediate support from other authors.

"Very, very few picture books are published in this country that feature children of colour," she told Reuters news agency. "We might have dogs, cats, rabbits, puppies, but when it comes to children, very few [featuring different ethnicities] are published."

Ms Blackman, the author of the Noughts and Crosses series for young adults, said that when she began her writing career she was told white children would not want to read books featuring black characters.

She said there was still not enough ethnic diversity among Britain's writers. "I can reel off 10 or 15 black and minority ethnic authors in the UK, but I should be able to reel off a hell of a lot more," she said.

Quentin Blake, celebrated as the illustrator of Roald Dahl's books, said that Ms Blackman was "probably right", adding that he often included characters from ethnic minorities in his illustrations even when he wasn't prompted.

"If I have a group of children I generally do some kind of mix," he said. "I became aware of that over time – one sort of learns things as you go along. It rather depends on what the story is. The book that you illustrate very often has an assortment of characters, but perhaps not the lead.

"Two or three years ago I did David Walliams's first book, The Boy in the Dress, which was about an ordinary lower-middle-class white boy. I asked to do eight extra pages of drawings of the other children in the school, who were not characters in the book … there's a fair mixture there, I think."

He added that children's writers should take responsibility for creating ethnic minority characters rather than leaving it up to the illustrators.

"We need people to write those books," he said. "It's not really for me to make rules for writers and illustrators, but I think they will become aware of that. It has to spring naturally out of things. Maybe Malorie talking about it may make people a bit more aware, but you've got to write it properly; you can't do it on a quota system or something like that."

Anthony Horowitz, the author and screenwriter who wrote the Alex Rider series of teenage spy novels, said the Children's Laureate was right to raise the issue, adding that she was a "brilliant champion for young adult fiction and for black readers and black writers".

But he added: "Can writers like me help? I'm not sure. If I try to write a character from an ethnic background I will not be writing from my own experience and I may lay myself open to all sorts of accusations – tokenism, for example. Am I being patronising? And is it my job to tell a story or to help shape society?

"We simply need to create more Malories – and I'm optimistic. Look at Steve McQueen, Idris Elba, Lennie James, Ben Okri. Ozwald Boateng and many others. In every area of culture and the media, there are black people making their mark."

Last year, a study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin found that of the 3,200 children's books published in the US in 2013, only 93 were about black people.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas