Out of every 100 children’s books published in the U.K., only one contains a black main character, while only 4% of children’s books contain a black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) character at all.
The same study revealed children’s books are far more likely to contain an animal character than a person of color.
“I realized parents of black children, including myself, were struggling to find good quality representative literature,” says entrepreneur Keisha Ehigie. “And so I decided to start a subscription service to make it easier for them to access the existing representative books. I also wanted to provide activities to affirm and educate black children on trailblazers and icons who look like them, as this is not always covered in a traditional school setting.”
There are few children’s book businesses which focus on ethnic diversity, and Ehigie says this sets her business, Imagine Me Stories, apart.
“It’s quite different from your traditional book store such as Waterstones or mainstream children’s book subscription boxes such as Bookabees or The Willoughby Book Club.”
Imagine Me Stories was “created to serve a specific group of people that are currently overlooked and underrepresented by the publishing industry,” Ehigie says.
The 36-year-old is of Nigerian and Jamaican heritage and launched the business after her two-year-old daughter started asking questions about her appearance.
“She was noticing differences between her, her friends, and also children on television,” Ehigie recalls. “She loves to read books so I decided to get her some books with characters that looked like her and our family, in order to affirm her.”
Ehigie couldn’t find any relevant children’s books on the high street and said there was a “very limited” selection in online bookstores.
“I realized that there was a big issue with ethnic representation in the children’s book industry.”
Ehigie’s main challenge has been sourcing enough variety of black children’s literature.
In order for the business to be sustainable in the long term, she says, there would need to be a significant increase in the amount of diverse children’s books published in the U.K.
“There are a lot of black children’s books that are either no longer in print or not easily sourced in bulk in the U.K. as they are only stocked by international publishers.
“Our hope is that by demonstrating the need for diverse children’s books, U.K. publishers will see that there is a real need for representation.”
Currently, Ehigie’s business is fully self-funded, but she says she has generated £6,000 ($7,800) in revenue in the two months since the company has launched.
“I’m conservatively projecting to hit £100,000 in the first year,” she says, with her ultimate goal being to drive such social change that it will no longer be unusual for BAME children to see themselves in the books they read.
“Our ultimate goal is to drive such a change in the U.K. children’s book industry that there would be no need for the term ‘black children’s books’ or ‘diverse books’ as there would be sufficient diversity and representation in children’s books that such a term would be unnecessary.”
Written by: Lucy Sherriff
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