As a Muslim, I want my children to see themselves in books to create a better future for all

October 29, 2018

By guest blogger Sarah Mehrali. Sarah is a journalist and editor, as well as being a parent Inclusion Ambassador for Inclusive Minds.


In our house, we love a good book.  They're on the shelves, neatly arranged under the sofa, scattered across the floor in the bedrooms and they even adorn the kitchen.  Almost two years ago, I picked up a copy of Nadiya's Bake Me a Story: Fifteen Stories and Recipes for Children by TV chef Nadiya Hussain.  Ordinarily, my boys (aged 5 and 8) begin by assessing the front cover and then have a good rummage through before starting to read.  On this occasion, however, they were transfixed by the image of Nadiya with her three children. All their names were labelled: Dawud, Maryam and Musa. "Their names are... just like ours!" said seven year old Hamza.  We went on to enjoy her beautiful tales and browse through the recipes, but I've noticed that when left alone with that book, they always turn to that particular page, staring and smiling. 

In July this year, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, funded by 
Arts Council England published the results of a study entitled ‘Reflecting realities’which looked at how many books published in 2017 featured BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) characters. The findings were picked up by the BBC, who published an article highlighting the need for BAME characters to be ‘more central’ in children’s books. The survey found that when BAME characters are present in books, 56% involved "contemporary realism" issues such as war, refugees and racism, compared to just 0.6% being classed as a comedy. The research supports my own feeling that a plethora of wonderful books are available for little ones to help them understand the major global themes of our time (e.g. Welcome to Our WorldMalala’s Magic Pencil and The Boy at the Back of the Class) but there is a paucity of literature wherein characters just happen to be from a BAME background and it is not their defining characteristic.

We need more books where children like my own, who are growing up in a world where intolerance and demarcation is growing, can identify with characters and feel normal and included in wider narratives. Without this, how will such children feel part of mainstream culture and see the importance of their personal contributions to society and literature as they enter adulthood?

As a child, I encountered very few books that featured characters that looked liked me. Sometimes I popped up in a well-known classic loosely as an Indian, exotic and odd and most definitely on the sidelines. I read the glorious The Secret Garden books by C.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Adventures. I became lost in these magical worlds but learnt that people of colour don’t go on adventures. Today, the landscape has changed but the issues remain the same. As a second generation British Asian Muslim, I have a heightened awareness of my identity - something that wasn’t a big issue as a child. I have my own children now. They are too young to understand the complex nature of global politics but have begun to ask questions about why Muslims are regularly featured on the front of newspapers, why women who ‘look’ Islamic are talked about a lot and even why some people who use Arabic in public are being pulled up for it. I want my boys to see themselves in a positive light when they pick up a book, encouraging them to want to be a part of wider conversations as they grow up. I don’t want them to feel decades later, that they too, don’t go on adventures. 

Change is happening.  For example, Hamza and I relished 
Bilal’s Brilliant Bee by Michael Rosen about a boy (who happens to be Asian) and his antics at school - both funny and inclusive without a focus on difference.  My hope is that by raising awareness of the issue, we can set off a chain reaction where children of colour can be superheroes, where strange sounding names become accepted and where children like mine can pick up a book and view it as a looking glass, ready to leap in.


Developing a charter for inclusion and diversity

February 23, 2015

28 January 2015 saw children’s book publishers coming together with booksellers, teachers, librarians and other key partners to turn discussions around inclusion and diversity into action.  

One of several practical outcomes of this innovative event was the development of a new diversity and inclusion charter, currently open for consultation.

The event (A Place at the Table) was organised by Inclusive Minds, the Publishers Association, the IPG and EQUIP. 


Continue reading...

Are you Inclusively Minded?

January 9, 2015
To tie in with our A Place at the Table event, we've been working on a draft of an 'Everybody In' charter for the publishing industry to which delegate will contribute. Due to popular demand, we've decided to expand on this and create charters for schools, libraries and booksellers as well.

Signatories to the charter will be able to use a 'We're In-clusively Minded' logo on their website, as well have their company name and action points listed on the Inclusive Minds website.

Are you inclusivel...
Continue reading...

National Coming Out Day - Guest blog

October 16, 2014

Saturday 11th October was National Coming Out Day (NCOD), an internationally observed civil awareness day celebrating individuals who publicly identify as a gender or sexual minority. To celebrate, Cat Crossley from HarperCollins has blogged on books, publishing and coming out. 

What do Oscar Wilde, Radclyffe Hall and animal onesies have in common?  They all came out of the closet long before it was safe to do so. It was National Coming Out Day on Saturday 11th and while it may seem l...

Continue reading...

Gender Alert - BBC Children's TV and the Radio Times

June 2, 2014

Only one in fifty listed BBC TV children's programmes has a female main character.

The Radio Times - 31 May-6 June 2014 is inviting you to Vote for your favourite BBC children's TV character ever from fifty listed programmes, 1950-2013. But only one show, (Sarah and Duck, 2013), has a female main character. Forty-four have male, or mostly male characters; (the remaining five have roughly the same number of females and males).

Even in the most recent category, the '2000s', of eleven pr...

Continue reading...

Survey into young visually impaired people's reading habits

March 25, 2014

Would you like to help with a study about the importance of reading for blind and partially sighted young people?                                                                                     

LISU and The Reading Agency have been asked by RNIB to find out about the difference that reading makes to the lives of blind and partially sighted young people. To do this, they are asking visually impaired 11 to 14 year olds to fill in a short online survey about the reading that...

Continue reading...

Halloween horrors

October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween! 

To mark the occ
asion, Inclusive Minds and Letterbox Library have put our heads together and concocted a list of just a few of the many horrors we have come across surrounding diversity (or rather the lack of it) in children’s books.

So here they are in no particular order –  some of the most dreadful diversity-related crimes against children’s books over the years, guaranteed to shock and scare this Halloween.

1. Lazy shorthand.  It’s everywhere in book...

Continue reading...

Should children’s book awards be more inclusive?

July 26, 2013

A guest post by Jonathan Emmett

Jonathan Emmett is a children's author. In addition to writing picture books, such as Bringing Down the Moon, Someone Bigger and The Princess and the Pig, he also writes and paper-engineers pop-up books. He has a website at

“Avoid pigs and witches,” — this advice was given to me a few years ago when I was writing fiction for a schools’ reading scheme. Pigs had to be avoided because they could offend Muslim readers and witche...

Continue reading...

Would you like to blog about something?

April 11, 2013
Unfortunately, we don't have enough hours in the day to blog about all the things we'd like, but we've added this section because we thought it might be nice to have a range of people writing or blogging about subjects that interest them. 

If you're interested in diversity, accessibility, inclusion and equality in children's books, and you would like to write something for our website, please get in touch.

Your submission could take the form of a casual blog, or a more formal article, but we'd ...

Continue reading...