The Importance of Being Inclusive – Children’s Books.

Childrens Illustration, Childrens Writing, General

I’ve been commissioned to write and illustrate an inclusive children’s book (full details later, it’s a huge project with lots of people involved). Feeling really proud to be working on it, I mentioned it to a friend. She asked Why?

So how do you explain inclusivity to someone with seemingly no understanding of the term. To someone who doesn’t work with children or communities.

I asked how she felt about some children being under-represented in books or on TV. She didn’t believe that this was the case. Instead insinuating that we (as a society) are ramming inclusivity down peoples throats when there’s no need.

We talked about the project some more and I explained how everyone involved doesn’t want an ‘issue’ book. How nobody wants or feels the need to lecture young children on what a family is or how many shades of skin or conditions and disabilities there are. The aim is to normalise, not to set apart.

Again, I couldn’t get through. She felt it was unimportant and that children are too young to be taking notice of these things in picture books. Essentially, that it was unnecessary.

Later in the week, my youngest (6) was playing on the floor. There was a local news feature on TV about adoption rates in the area for LGBT couples. I prepared myself for a barrage of questions as I decided it was a really good time to test the water and try and gauge his understanding of family units. I said something along the lines of ‘Aww, look at the baby with his dads – they’ve adopted him’. He looked at me strangely, so I pre-empted and said ‘Some children have two dads and some have two mums and…’ He cut me off and said, ‘Yeah, I know…But what does adopted mean?’

It was one of those moments that made me stop and smile. Just like I did when he told me all about recycling, the week before. These little tiny people are more aware of their environment and diversity than ever before.


That conversation with my friend ultimately ended up biting me, as she came to the conclusion that my portfolio is not very diverse. We weren’t arguing, I should probably point that out…All very civilised over a cup of tea and a cake.

She’s right. Evaluating my own portfolio, it is imbalanced. I could do a lot more and I will make more of an effort in future to be inclusive. And if a six year old goes home comfortable with and accepting of cultural and lifestyle differences like mine did, I’d be very proud to have created that material under her (or his) nose. The point is, he didn’t find it unusual. And this is down to exposure. This is where children’s authors and illustrators have a big responsibility. Show diversity in your words and pictures. Expose children to an open society where everyone is equal. Show little girls they don’t need to be rescued and show little boys there’s no shame in pushing a pram.

Above all else, don’t make a big deal of it. How do you draw a gay man? You draw a man.





5 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Inclusive – Children’s Books.

  1. The contention that inclusivity in books is not necessary may be a reaction to efforts that feel decidedly artificial. You recognize these stories when every color and every variant of physical or mental impairment is depicted in a single group of “friends.” Even the youngest child recognizes this as an artificial group.This is when your friend would rightly decree this being “crammed down our throats.”
    But good literature has none of this forced flavor. A great story that feels organic and is about the concerns of out-of-mainstream people has the potential to break ground and open minds.

  2. One of my (and my kids’) most favorite children’s book is Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee. It is one of the most inclusive books I’ve ever read and so beautifully illustrated. It’s just pages of babies of all colors, sizes, shapes. Some with two moms. Some with biracial parents. It’s all normalized. My kids don’t think anything but how cute all the babies are! It’s my favorite gift to give my friends because their kids will always find a baby in that book that represents them in some way.

  3. Having worked in public schools with diverse demographics, I’ve learned how vitally important it is for kids to see people like themselves in books. Thanks for this great post.

  4. Great post. Our children, and their children, and so on, will be much more familiar and comfortable with diversity thanks to this way of thinking. I think most children don’t notice or pay attention to differences, or rather they accept them as not different, until, unfortunately, narrow-minded adults step in to set them straight.

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