How do we teach children about diversity, equity and inclusion? One way is through the books we share with them, shares Lesley Berrington.

As Educators, we’re aware that children are learning all the time from everything around them. I believe that children should see diversity and inclusion in their story books, games and other resources, every day. This shows children that we all have differences, and it teaches the importance of respect and understanding.

When I created my ‘Hattie and friends’ characters, I collaborated with the illustrator to feature a variety of differences including abilities, skin colour, hair, family groups and personalities. I wanted to reflect that we’re all unique individuals with our own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, but we can all be friends and have fun together, treating each other with kindness, compassion and respect.

What about home bookshelves?

Most of my customers are educators who understand the concept and value of inclusive story books. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before all children have inclusive story books on their bookshelf at home. The only way this will happen is if more authors, illustrators and publishers embrace the need for inclusion and diversity in their work. If more choices are available, all children will feel represented from the positive images they see and will choose inclusive books. If children see appealing characters and enjoyable stories that they can relate to, they easily accept any differences. Currently, there is a real lack of diversity in mainstream publishing. There are some terrific books out there, but you do have to search for them! Unfortunately, therefore most children don’t have inclusive books at home.

Children’s responses to inclusive books

When I visit Primary Schools, I talk about ‘Being an Author’ to inspire creativity and imagination in Key Stage 1 children. I often don’t even mention disability or inclusion. Sometimes I ask the children if they’ve noticed any differences in my characters, apart from differences in what the children are wearing (this is always a bit of a struggle!). I find it fascinating that the children rarely notice disabilities and, when I point them out, I can see that they’ve accepted each character for who they are – their disability isn’t an issue and doesn’t define them.

Of course, children are curious and sometimes ask questions about any differences they see. Reading books like the ‘Hattie and friends’ series gives children the opportunity to learn more about disability. Some people may feel uncomfortable about answering these questions, but there are notes printed in the back of my books to help with this.

In ‘A Day at the Seaside,’ Hattie’s friend Lucy is blind. The story features sounds, tastes, smells and textures. It’s a great opportunity to talk with children about how we might use our senses differently and help them understand the significance of this for those who are blind or partially sighted.

A page from the book, 'A Day At The Seaside'. It reads, "They collected lots of shells of different shapes and sizes which chinked together in Hattie's bucket. 'Come on, let's paddle!' Hattie said as she took Lucy's hand and led her towards the sea. The girls squealed as the cold waves lapped over their feet."

A page from the book, 'A day at the seaside'.

Above all, we need to show children, through our actions and words, that we value them all equally. Disability is part of life, we need to see it, talk about it and feature it in all our children’s lives.

Maybe it’s time to audit your bookshelf and go on a ‘storybook search’… Have fun!

Author

  • Lesley Berrington

    Lesley is NNEB qualified and the former owner of Stepping Stones Day Care Ltd. in Lincoln, a group of three nurseries and two kids’ clubs. She created ‘Hattie and friends’, inclusive story books, to meet the growing demand for positive images of disability in children’s resources. She regularly visits primary schools to talk to Key Stage 1 children about ‘being an author’.

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