Imagine the children’s section in a bookshop. Not just any children’s section, though; this one, if you will, must be imagined without any books by authors and illustrators who are not English. And, just to be clear, that means no Meg and Mog, no Varjak Paw, no Tiger who Came to Tea, no works of Roald Dahl. Picture, if you dare, a bookshop without The Gruffalo.
On 20th February, the One Day Without Us campaign showed in stunning fashion how badly the UK would be affected if all its immigrant workers were made to leave: empty hospital wards, deserted university departments, even a forlorn-looking Paddington Bear. But one thing it’s even harder to comprehend is how bare our bookshelves would be, if we were to perform a similar banishing act on immigrant authors. Think of the disastrous effects if, just when children most need to be learning about the importance of diversity, we were to suggest through the books we give them that the only worthwhile stories are written and illustrated by English people.
Books from different heritages incorporate all sorts of different ways of looking at the world, of picturing it, of imagining it – ways that you might not even consider if the book passed you by. Eliminate all these diverse perspectives from our shelves, and we are left with a single narrative. And with single narratives comes something very dangerous. We are witnessing in real time the terrifying consequences of one supremely powerful individual being allowed to dictate the narrative of what is false and what is bad. Take away the books that give children different ways of seeing, thinking, imagining, and we reduce their ability to counter that narrative.
We already know that diverse books play a crucial part in encouraging acceptance, curiosity and cultural exchange. But now more than ever, we also need to read these authors to remind us that there is never a single way of writing, drawing or thinking. In times like these, even one day without them would be a dark day indeed.
- Read SF Said’s blog, One day without us, which raised the issue.
- World Book day reinforces the idea of stories as cultural bridges
- Build bridges, not walls!
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