Ndah Mbawa portrait

Written by Ndah Mbawa

Ndah runs Happier Every Chapter, a literacy service committed to helping schools and families improve diversity awareness and reading attainment through library diversity audits and the provision of diverse, inclusive and representative bestsellers for children. Her passion for decolonising mindsets within the school-to-workplace pipeline and supercharging the will/skill to read is shared by her teenage daughters, Kirsten & Aiyven.

It’s a little known fact that children start to form biases like racial bias much earlier than we think. For instance, from as early as 3 – 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice racial differences in the people around them. By the time they are 2, most children have soaked up stereotypes about race and may express these with one way or another. By 4, children can directly express race based prejudice or bias by teasing. And, by age 12, many children become set in biased thoughts, actions and decisions. Makes you think about what’s in the school-to-workplace pipeline doesn’t it? One doesn’t need to look further than the Ashford School incident for hard and gravely worrying evidence of such biased actions.

World Book Day provides a great opportunity to be more intentionally inclusive and it doesn’t always have to come down to dressing up. It’s never too early to begin the work of anti-racism & diversity awareness or to help your school setting make progress in conscious equality even as you promote the love of reading. With 34.5% of primary age pupils in the U.K being from minority ethnic backgrounds, diversity will not be the issue for a lot of school settings. How included these pupils feel and consequently how much of a sense of belonging they have will often be the issue. Somewhere in those corridors, a significant amount of pupil engagement is lost. How will you use events like World Book Day to further drive home the message that all are welcome and all belong?

Here are some tips to celebrate World Book Day in a more inclusive way:

📖 Start a book, an anthology and encourage children from different ethnicities or cultures to contribute short stories from their heritage. It will be a great way to uphold this year’s theme of making it ‘your’ World Book Day.

📖 Read stories with a diverse range of characters making sure that these are not limited to ethnic and cultural representations but also include other forms of diversity like gender, ability, neurodiversity, family set-up, sexual orientation etc. When stories featuring diverse characters are told with authenticity, it helps children develop empathy and inclusion giving them an opportunity to see themselves and the world around them in the books they read.

📖 Where possible, ensure the diverse titles selected / included in your World Book Day list are written by own voice authors. As much own voices are not always entirely representative of everyone within that group, it will for the most part foster better connection with the stories as children will not only see themselves in the books but will also be able to relate to the person behind the words thus giving confidence that the worlds created or described are represented in the most genuine light possible. The most powerful advantage of reading own voice books, has got to be that the stories are often told in a way that shines the light on the nuances and subtle differences within that group which can help dispel the stereotypes, generalisations and harmful single stories we may have become so attached to.

📖 For author visits around World Book Day and beyond, engage authors who represent diverse groups or voices. The phrase “We can’t be what we can’t see” will not be new to most of us. Having a face-to-face or virtual encounter with someone we can relate to in one way or the other, is a powerful way to make the right impact.

📖 Promote the use of World Book Day £1 tokens to buy books with diverse characters or books on anti-racism, diversity and inclusion. Being an Ally: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again by Shakirah Bourne & Dana Alison Levy is a fabulous choice.

📖 Educate children on how World Book Day is celebrated around the world.

📖 Encourage children to proudly own their heritage by asking them to dress up as their favourite character from one of their cultural folk tales.

Let’s make it a “WORLD” Book Day as the name suggests.