#NNFN: The Need for Diversity in Information Books

Earlier this month, the winners of the 2016 SLA Information Book Awards were announced, and at the awards ceremony, Hilary Murray Hill, CEO at Hachette Children’s Books, gave a wonderful speech about the need for diversity in information books. Today, with her permission, we reproduce an edited version of her speech.

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The Need for Diversity in Information Books
By Hilary Murray Hill

“The Hachette Children’s Group are delighted to sponsor the SLA Information Book Awards, which bring attention not only to the extraordinary variety and quality of contemporary information books, but also the incomparable value of information professionals.

As the daughter of a librarian, the school and local libraries were central to my whole childhood. It was only when I came into children’s publishing that I realised what a rich inheritance of children’s literature I had received through librarianship – both at home and at school. I had taken it entirely for granted.

2016 has seen still more pressure on school budgets and staffing. Head teachers have to make difficult choices, and that often means cutting back on investment in school libraries. But as we know, the school library is much more than a room full of books. It is a hub for supporting learning right across the school; a space where a whole world of knowledge can be brought to each child. The evidence of the importance of libraries is clear – I recently received this email:

‘I am a parent with three children of all abilities. My middle boy (age 9) was reluctant to read mainly because he found it tricky or uninteresting. He also has dyslexia but not a diagnosis. Until he found Monsters Like Us: Talent Fright (by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore, published by Franklin Watts under their Edge imprint for reluctant readers) at our local library. He was so hooked and really appreciated the comic style, engaging colourful pictures and words, including how short the book was, that he approached the Librarian himself (a very shy boy) and asked if they could order the rest of the series!’

Our Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, with the support of all 8 previous Laureates, recently sent an open letter to Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Education, expressing his concern that the work school libraries and librarians do in promoting reading for pleasure ‘is not fully appreciated and, worse, is being undermined through lack of economic and intellectual investment’.

He pointed to the recent closure of two major school library services in Dorset and Berkshire, and to the year-on-year loss of members at the School Library Association (SLA) as numbers shrink through lack of funding. The SLA estimates that over the last decade it has lost around 1,000 members, as ‘more and more schools are taking the economic route and saying they haven’t got the money and they’ve got to get rid of their librarian’, said Tricia Adams, Director of the SLA.

Librarians know that the route to reading is not always fiction. There are many, many children who first realise reading is pleasurable by finding a book of newly fascinating facts, or one describing in great detail a subject which already intrigues them. Our job as children’s publishers is to cater for diverse interests and different levels of reading ability to inform and engage our young audience which is becoming more diverse than ever.

The percentage of pupils from minority ethnic origins is growing – with one-third of primary pupils defined as being from ethnic minorities; in secondary schools, the proportion of ethnic minority pupils has risen to almost 30%. About 20% of primary pupils are from homes where a language other than English is spoken. But within these averages are wide regional differences. In the North East of England, 88% of primary pupils are categorised as white British, while in the inner London boroughs the percentage is just 18%.

Our goal at the Hachette Children’s Group is to make sure every child can find themselves within the pages of our books, and I call on all information book publishers to consider that a diverse school-age population is best served by a diverse range of publishing.”

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