Although there have been programmes put in place to help tackle diversity in the publishing industry, it still remains, for the most part, predominantly white. The norm we see in books influences the way we see the world and this is why it’s particularly important for children to see characters that represent themselves.
Illustration books for early years are a key way of doing this and Black History Month helps champion these representations. Falling every October in the UK, the month sets aside a time to honour the history and celebrate the achievements of the Black community.
Sadly, the harsh reality is that, according to a major survey of the UK’s publishing workforce, only 11 per cent of people working in the industry identify as ethnic minorities. On top of this, just 10 per cent of the children’s books published in the UK in the past four years feature characters of colour. There has only been a growth rate of three per cent in the number of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK. These figures highlight the severe lack of diversity there is in the publishing industry and how much needs to be done to combat this issue.
This issue has led to many writers within the black community branching out to independently publish their own books, and even creating their own publishing houses. There are also traditional publishing houses who are taking steps to tackle this lack of diversity. Penguin collaborated with race equality organisation, The Runneymede Trust, to launch Lit In Colour which helps schools provide their students with a more diverse range of books and authors. But far more needs to be done to achieve equality in publishing.
A good place to start is to champion existing books that celebrate black characters. Here, we review 13 illustrated children’s books written by black authors, with black protagonists. These are stories of empowerment and will encourage young readers to think creatively and independently.
The best children’s books with empowering black characters for 2022 are:
- Best overall – ‘Azani Runs’ by Mandy Preville-Findlay, published by Listening To Your Voice Publishing: £8.95, Amazon.co.uk
- Best Caribbean influenced book – ‘Later’ by Curtis Ackie: £9.99, Formybooks.com
- Best West African influenced book – ‘There’s Rice At Home’ by Mayowa Precious Agbabiaka: £8.88, Bookdepositry.com
- Best inspirational book – ‘Riley Can Be Anything’ by Davina Hamilton: £5.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for rhyming – ‘Mansa Musa Builds A School’ by Louisa and Oladele Olafuyi: £7.99, Kundakids.com
- Best for embracing natural hair – ‘Lily and The Magic Comb’ by V V Brown: £7.99, Waterstones.com
- Best for young foodies – ‘Fat Daddy’s Soul Kitchen’ by Karl Gritton: £15, Fatdaddyssoulfood.com
- Best book with a serious message – ‘Lily Says No’ by Kelly Eastmond-Jeffrey: £2.42, Amazon.co.uk
- Best STEM book – ‘Look Up!’ by Nathan Bryon: £6.99, Waterstones.com
- Best for illustrations – ‘Freedom We Sing’ by Amyra Leon: £10.19, Amazon.co.uk
- Best educational history book – ‘Little Leaders: Bold Women In Black History’ by Vashti Harrison: £7.99, Waterstones.com
- Best empowering book – ‘The Young Black Prince’ by Melissa Mason: £6.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best book with an ode message – ‘Isaiah’s Extraordinary Mum’ by Desriee Asomuyide: £9.99, Littleomo.com