Books that are windows, books that are mirrors

I was quietly pricing birthday cards in the shop this morning when a customer came over holding a copy of Atinuke and Lauren Tobia’s book Splash! Anna Hibiscus.

‘I have never seen a picture book like this,’ she said excitedly. ‘A book about a mixed-race child. Are there any more? Is this the only one?’

Unfortunately it was the only one we had in stock, but I recommended a few others to her – she told me she was particularly interested in mixed Afro-Caribbean/British families, so I suggested My Two Grannies and My Two Grandads by Floella Benjamin and Margaret Chamberlain, and Through My Window by Tony Bradman and Eileen Browne, and the rest of the Anna Hibiscus books, of course. She asked me to write them all down, and every so often while we were talking she’d laugh and say again ‘I’ve never seen a picture book like this before!’. I didn’t ask who she was buying for, but I assumed it was for somebody close to her – or perhaps she was buying for herself, a few decades too late.

I talk a lot – to my friends and colleagues, and anybody who ever asks me what interests me most about books and publishing – about children’s books. and about the concept of having books that are windows and books that are mirrors. Sometimes, talking about it makes me feel somehow insignificant – the books I’m interested in promoting aren’t going to win many big literary prizes or break into the bestseller lists, and so many people I speak to seem to feel that children’s literature just isn’t as interesting or as important as literature for adults. Then I have a conversation like the one I had today, and it reminds me that this stuff is really, viscerally important – for all of us, and for our children.

So, this post goes out to all the authors and illustrators and publishers and booksellers who are committed to making books for children more diverse, who want to enable all children to see themselves in the books they read. Thank you all. I’m proud to count myself, in a small way, as one of you.

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