What makes a good children's book today? How are stories for young readers told in a timely manner? And what role do inclusion and diversity play in this? These questions will be discussed at the Frankfurt Kids Conference "Transform diversity: perspectives and networks" at the Frankfurter Buchmesse (19 - 23 October 2022). Here is an interview with its moderator and children's book expert Lawrence Schimel.
If we talk about diversity, what does that actually mean?
Although the world itself is becoming more and more pluralistic and diverse, the publishing industry continues to focus on telling and promoting certain stories, usually those about or featuring white, male, heterosexual, physically able (we don't even have a word for "non-disabled", it is a cultural and linguistic blindspot and simply regarded as the norm), Christian and upper class characters and their lives and adventures.
It is extremely important that children do not only see themselves and their own realities reflected in books. Otherwise, children normalise those "absences" and as a result they don't consider the lives of those people who aren't appearing in their cultural products (books, cartoons, tv programs, etc.) to be important or worth mentioning.
Why do you think it is still important to talk about diversity in children’s books, hasn't the diverse world long since found its way into children's books?
The Cooperative Children's Book Center in Wisconsin annually analyses all the children's books published in the US. And they published an astonishing report which revealed that it is more likely for children to read about an animal than a Black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous character.
For instance, in 2018, 50% of books featured white characters, 27% featured animals, 10% African Americans, 7% Asian, 5% Latino and only 1% Indigenous characters.
Do you have a favorite book that you think depicts diversity well?
I think the book ALLES FAMILIE! written by Alexandra Maxeiner and illustrated by Anke Kuhl (Klett Kinderbuch Verlag) is a very good example of a children's book that includes diversity as an integral part of its worldview. It's not added on as an afterthought but is included from the very conception of the book and executed in both the text and the illustrations. Since it won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis I am not the only one to think that it is so well done!
Mr Schimel, thank you very much for the interview!
Lawrence Schimel is a bilingual (Spanish/English) writer and literary translator based in Madrid. He has published over 120 books in many different genres and for readers of all ages. His children's books about same-sex families "Bedtime, Not Playtime!" and "Early One Morning" have been published worldwide in 48 editions in 37 languages.
Transform diversity: perspectives and networks through the Frankfurter Buchmesse new conference for children's and youth media
When: Wed, 19 October 2022, 9.15 a.m. - 12.00 p.m., admission from 9.00 a.m.
Where: Congress Center Level 3, Conference Room Illusion
Tickets: Frankfurt Kids (buchmesse.de)