The diversity within children’s books has been an important, and much discussed topic lately; especially with recent incidents and reports surrounding the incredibly important BLM movement. Though only recently brought to most people’s attention, organisations such as We Need Diverse Books, which was founded in 2014, have long been campaigning to bring diversity into the world of children’s books.
The representation of BAME characters within children’s books has left a lot to be desired in the past, and currently falls far short of accurately representing the world to young children. At Signature Books we have tried to be mindful, but this shortfall is an industry-wide issue.
With the technology we use to create our personalised books we were limited with what we could offer in regards to changing the illustrations on each page. Our team have always been happy to create the characters, but as each book is created as a one-off print, the more options added to each character, the harder our technology needs to work.
All of our children’s titles include a preview function, allowing you to see inside the pages, read some of the story, and view the illustrations. We actively encourage our customers to utilise these preview links on their sites so that their customers can see the story they’re ordering, and also to see if our illustrations are what they want their child to see.
Many of our stories have been created through in-house ideas, using market research, customer feedback, and our own children for inspiration. We, of course, choose our titles with sales in mind, after all we are a business; but we have found that it’s hard to sell to the majority without marginalising some of the audience we aim to reach.
Previously we have created books which centralise around animal-based characters, or books where the narrative is directed towards the reader, using them throughout the story but not showing them as an illustrated character throughout the book.
The Guardian have reported that a 2019 report, titled Reflecting Realities, written for the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education reveals that 42% of children’s books published in the UK in 2018 follow this method of storytelling. A method which chooses not to specifically represent anyone is great as it doesn’t then misrepresent anybody. That’s no big deal, until you stop to think that children from a BAME background are much more likely to encounter a book where an animal is the main character than one which has characters that share their ethnicity.
Backing up the Guardian’s summary, figures from Cooperative Children’s Book Center of Education (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that 29% featured animal characters or “other”, while almost 42% of books they were sent featured a white main character. It is therefore safe to conclude that white children are far more represented by humans, than they are by animals.
Adding the option to change the ethnicity, gender, and even add a disability to our personalised characters was always something we looked to do. However, to fully ensure that our technology could cope with the different combination of characters we need to be able to create, it took us a while to get it right.
We never wanted to promise something we were unsure would work. Now we do know this is something we can do, the function will be here to stay. Some of our current offerings of this avatar function offer around 39,750 possible combinations of personalised characters, and so we can boast that there’s no way to make a book more personal than that. However, we know that translating this functionality onto our customers’ sites is also a gauntlet we need to run. And so, we are now offering the unique choice of vouchers for our brilliant Build a Bear books. With this simple method, all our you need to do, to offer this amazing book to your customers, is list one SKU, use our product imagery and book previews, and watch the sales come through.
The voucher will contain steps to follow and a unique code that can be redeemed online for one Build-A-Bear storybook, which will also be delivered free of charge to their chosen address. When redeeming the code, they can then customise the characters in the book by adding a name, choosing gender, clothing, and other aspects of their appearance. Designed for children with their own Build-a-Bears personalised illustrations within this title are created for the child’s cuddly friend. But more titles where you can customise illustrations of the child are also available.