We’re delighted to have been asked by Once Upon a Bookcase to be involved in the brilliant LGBTQ YA Month activity. We thought we’d use our guest blog opportunity to briefly explain the work of Inclusive Minds.
Inclusive Minds stemmed from our mutual concern that children’s books simply do not reflect society as it really is. We had both spent many years lamenting the absence of more diverse and inclusive books and worked together on several projects around disability (and then leading into wider diversity issues), before we finally took the plunge and established the Inclusive Minds collective. The idea behind it is simply to bring together all those with an interest in making children’s literature more diverse and inclusive, and seek out ways to work together on relevant projects and events.
It’s an exciting time, as we start to look at the many ways in which Inclusive Minds might be able to support children’s books in reflecting a more genuine picture of our diverse society.
However, despite the strong sense that interest in this area is growing, and that diversity (or rather the lack of it) in children’s literature is a hot topic, we are aware that we face some considerable challenges in affecting real changes in children’s book publishing.
For one thing, when we talk to publishers about the need for greater inclusion and diversity, they often assume that we are referring to what are commonly known as ‘issue’ books. Whether we are talking about disability, family structure, gender roles, ethnicity or sexuality, we come up against the same barriers. Many will respond that they ‘don’t do’ issue books, or perhaps that they ‘did an issue book once’ or have included a black character or a wheelchair in an occasional book, and therefore apparently consider the diversity box to be adequately ticked. Others will tell us that they lack the relevant experience in diversity and feel that it safer to leave such books to more ‘specialist’ publishers.
As a result, the children’s book landscape remains undeniably skewed. In the case of LGBT-relevant texts, there are of course very few such books in existence (i.e. books that feature LGBT characters and storylines) and even fewer that do it really well. Good books that explore ‘issues’ are vital, particularly for teens to see how others have work through similar situations and for all young people to develop better understanding of such issues.
As we explain to the publishers, however, it’s not just issue books we need. It’s also essential that we normalise or ‘usualise’ (a term we have adopted from Sue Saunders) diversity in all its forms. So as well as books that discuss LGBT relationships, and present some of the common transitions and experiences involved, we also need more books to simply include LGBT characters in the natural backdrop.
So, in a book that features a number of different teens, one of them might happen to have same-sex parents. This wouldn’t be ‘addressed’, but just ‘there’. Or a female character might refer to her girlfriend (or a male to his boyfriend), again not with the intention of passing comment, making a point or aiming to shock the audience, but just because some girls have girlfriends and some boys have boyfriends. This is what we can incidental inclusion, and it’s a major part of the Inclusive Minds philosophy.
Raising awareness of this need is one of the areas we hope to focus on over the coming year. Working with like-mind partners we hope to help the children’s book world to develop more diverse and inclusive books for all ages. We hope to help the book world to develop its knowledge and understanding of this area, and to recognise that we don’t only need books that deal with issues, or books that offer incidental inclusion - we need both. And more of them.
Find out more – and join us – at www.inclusiveminds.com.
Thank you, Alexandra and Beth for such an awesome post! Be sure to check out they're website, Inclusive Minds. Off the top of my head, I can think of two books - that I've read for this month - that have LGBTQ teens in without there really being any mention of or issue about it; Coda by Emma trevayne and The Culling by Steven dos Santos. Can you think of any others? What do you think of having issue novels and incididental inclusion novels?