I've read a number of articles and columns over the last month or so that have really reinforced my belief in what I am doing. Unfortunately, they have also made me despair a little about the society we live in, and how narrow minded some people can be.

I mentioned briefly in my last blog about a column by Charlie Condou where he bemoans the fact that children's books and television programmes don't feature 'differently shaped' families. That they are 'remarkably narrow in [their] definition of family, and that must leave a lot of kids feeling marginalised.' Okay, I'll admit that he chose to focus on television more than books, but he did at least mention the lack of representation in books. I tried to tweet him to reassure him that there are books that feature families like his, but unfortunately I didn't get a response - maybe my tweet got lost amongst the hundreds he probably receives.

A couple of weeks later, Caitlin Moran's column, referring to the teaching of transgender issues in schools, caught my eye. Her retort to someone's comment that we are overloading 'our children' (by which they mean 'their' children) with too many issues, made an excellent point. 'Our children' includes children who are, or will turn out to be, gay or transgender or have a non-traditional family... I could go on. Some might argue that transgender issues* don't need to be taught to everyone, as they don't affect everyone. But how do we know which children are affected? What about the children who might be wondering if they've been born the wrong gender (or about any other issue) but are too scared to talk to someone about it because they think there is something hugely wrong with them, that there is no one else like them? Plus, it's important for all children to learn about these kind of issues so that they don't grow up with the same prejudices that many of our generation seem to have. As Caitlin says, 'it seems a good idea to enable children to learn about it nice and early on, before they start getting the kind of weird ideas adults have.' We live in a diverse society, and it is important that children (and adults) realise that difference is normal.

Companies such as Letterbox Library specialise in sourcing and supplying books that represent the rich diversity of society (more on them in a future blog). My aim is to help publishers to make their books more representative in future. Not by creating 'issue' books, but by ensuring that their mainstream books include characters who just happen to be disabled, or children with parents who happen to be gay; characters who don't necessarily live in a nice three-bedroomed house in suburbia, and characters who are refugees; characters who have been adopted, have single-parent families or even three-parent families. 

It's not only the publishers who need convincing, but the booksellers. The excuse they make for not purchasing books featuring more diverse characters is that their customers don't ask for them. Why don't customers ask for these books? I don't believe that it's because there isn't a market for then. Maybe people don't ask because they've given up hoping that books representing anything other than the 'norm' might exist. To try to challenge this, I've started making a point of asking for an inclusive or 'controversial' book whenever I go into a bookstore - and I encourage you to do the same. I figure that if we keep asking for them, booksellers and publishers might finally realise that there is a need for these books and that not all book buyers fit into the same mould.


*I am reluctant to use the word 'issue' often as many take it to be a negative term, referring to a problem. I've just checked my ridiculously large dictionary, and the actual definition is 'an important topic or problem for debate or discussion'. So, when I do use this term, please interpret 'topic' rather than 'problem'