Children's Laureate sparks conversation about diversity in books

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Image Credit: Russell G Sneddon/AP

British author and Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman took a 24-hour hiatus from Twitter after an interview posted Sunday on Sky News led to a barrage of what she called “racist tweets.”

The Sky story was originally titled “Children’s Books ‘Have Too Many White Faces’,” but several hours after publishing, Sky changed the headline to “Call For More Ethnic Diversity In Kids’ Books”—after being contacted by Blackman, reported The Guardian. “Not once did the phrase in the banner headline pass my lips because I don’t think in those terms,” Blackman tweeted to her roughly 14,700 followers.

Fifteen minutes later, James Matthews, Scotland Bureau Chief at Sky News, tweeted, “Our headline writers are changing that Malorie and pass on their apologies” at both Blackman and Richard Suchet, the Sky correspondent who conducted the interview and wrote the accompanying article.

The interview that sparked the upset centered on Blackman’s call for greater diversity in both the characters in children’s books and the publishing world itself, specifically more “editors who are people of colour.” Blackman expressed concern that the lack of diverse representation within children’s literature has a negative effect on minority children who read them.

“I’m worried about the pattern that we are creating in this country, in terms of the kind of society we are showing in books,” Blackman said in the interview. “I think there is a very significant message that goes out when you cannot see yourself at all in the books you are reading.”

Blackman says she received a number of racist tweets in reaction to these comments and the way the original headline misrepresented her, but deleted most of them. Since then, she has received support from fellow authors including Patrick Ness, a Carnegie medal winner. Earlier today, she returned to Twitter to thank her supporters and fans, using the trending hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooksUK. She also tweeted, “Hell will freeze over before I let racists and haters silence me. In fact, they just proved to me that I was right to speak out.”

Blackman became the United Kingdom’s Children’s Laureate last year, after writing more than 50 books, some of which explore issues of race and diversity through fiction. She has won many awards for her writing, including the Eleanor Farjeon award, and in 2008, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to children’s literature.

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