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Why diversity in picture books is so important

5 Reading time

As a young, modern publishing company, we want to tell refreshing, contemporary stories that appeal to all children. With that in mind,  the depiction of diversity in our picture books is naturally something very close to our hearts. In this article, you’ll find out a little bit more about exactly why that is.

Cultural diversity in our Librio picture books

Every child is unique and we believe the main characters in picture books should reflect that. At Librio, it’s possible for every child to be ‘cast’ as the lead character, as the appearance of the lead can be adapted individually in each of our books. In addition to a variety of different hairstyles, a choice of different skin colours and a selection of outfits,  you can also choose between different eye shapes in “Be Brave” as well as in our European Search-and-Find book. This means that you can create a main character from thousands of different combinations to make sure they look just like your little one. 

Be Brave book

We also try to make sure that, although the supporting roles in our stories are not personalisable, they are still diverse – just like our choice of heroes. 

In our book «Be Brave», you’ll meet children from six different countries presenting several different cultures. This picture book was drawn by an international team of artists from Nepal, India, Jordan, South Africa, Vietnam and Honduras.

Six different children representing different countries in Be Brave book

 

Diversity: A current topic

In the vast majority of classic children’s books, diversity is still very much an exception to the rule. Heroes are overwhelmingly white, while black, Asian and other ethnic minority children are often bitpart characters, if they appear at all. According to a British study, only 4% of books published in 2017 represented these children. But the topic of diversity is becoming more popular in the publishing industry and being discussed more and more at a variety of events each year.

The results of our latest survey show that the topic is also close to your hearts. We asked you what topics you would like for future Librio books. These are a just a couple of your responses:

“More around the world storylines sharing of cultures, faiths and different sameness!”

“People with disabilities”

“Gender neutrality or brave girls, tender boys would be great! And maybe a book with one or more visually impaired protagonists?”

 

Beyond traditional family structures

A mum, a Dad and one or two children. This is how families are represented in most children’s books. With many families, this model also corresponds to reality – but certainly not with all of them.

When we developed our book «Welcome to the World», it was clear to us that we wanted to make room in our books for different family models. As a result, when configuring the book, you can choose whether it should be mum and dad, a mum or dad, or two mums or two dads. Also, if you look closely in our Search-and-Find Books, you will see different couples depicted.

Gender roles in picture books

According to one particular study in Germany, books with male protagonists are more than twice as often associated with the term «adventure» as is the case with female protagonists. The stories in which girls play the lead role are more often about everyday topics such as school and family. This video from RebelGirls illustrates the discrimination to great effect.

Books for everybody

At Librio, we make books for all children without any gendered stereotypes. Based on your feedback, we removed any clothing or hairstyle constraints, so any child can look however they want in the book, whether “Boy” or “Girl” is selected. In fact, in many of our books, this requirement to select a gender only exists because of the fact our books are translated into dozens of languages, some of which are not as easy to remove gendered pronouns as English. In our baby book, “Welcome to the world” and our search-and-find books, choosing the gender has no effect on the final book at all in English. (We’re also looking technically to remove this selection being necessary for languages where it has no effect on the final outcome, so that you only need to make this choice if it will actually affect the language in question. 

As far as colour is concerned, it would not occur to us to make gender-specific regulations. In our European Search-and-Find Book or in our Art Prints you can pick whatever colour combination you prefer. Whether it is orange, yellow, green, blue or pink – the choice is entirely yours!

colour choice options for covers of search and find books

 

Step by step towards more diversity in picture books

For Librio it is of great importance to us to represent diversity in picture books. Although we are probably on the right track in many areas, we are also aware that we are still far from reaching our goal.

 

Creating personalized picture books is a very complex operation. The illustrations are drawn by hand and every small change, every additional configuration option, is very time consuming and hard to do. That being said, it is our aim to grow in this area and to include as much diversity as possible, no matter how long it takes. After all, all children should be able to find themselves in our picture books.

ipad with configuration options on the screen

We’re looking forward to introducing some new configuration options for our books being released in 2021. Watch this space!