Diversity, books and reading panel

Thursday 4th July, 14.10

Theatre A

Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold will give a fascinating insight into her far-reaching research project in partnership with BookTrust which looks at the under-representation of authors and illustrators of colour in children’s books published in the UK, for the first time giving us accurate baseline information.

After the presentation, Chair Jake Hope will host a lively discussion on how we can better get great books into the hands of children from all backgrounds and identities in our great nation. Jake is joined by Sharmilla Beezmohun, from Speaking Volumes who have published the Breaking New Ground brochure of over 100 British children’s authors and illustrators of colour, Olivia Danso, Project Manager of BookTrust Represents which aims to increase the number of and support existing authors and illustrators of colour, and authors , Sita Brahmachari and Pete Kalu, and Onjali Rauf, as well as researcher Mel Ramdarshan Bold.


Sharmilla Beezmohun, Co-Director, Speaking Volumes

Sharmilla Beezmohun has worked in publishing since 1994. She co-founded Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions in 2010 with Sarah Sanders. Previous work includes eleven years as Deputy Editor of Wasafiri, the Magazine of International Contemporary Writing. Sharmilla is a Trustee of Carcanet Publishers, Modern Poetry in Translation magazine and the George Padmore Institute, an archive housing unique collections of material from pioneering Black British political and cultural organisations of the last 70 years. In 2010 her first novel, Echoes of a Green Land, was published in translation in Spain as Ecos de la tierra verde


Olivia Danso, Arts and Prizes Project Manager, BookTrust

Olivia Danso is the Project Manager of BookTrust Represents, a three-year project to support and promote authors and illustrators of colour.

In April 2019, BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity released findings of a ground-breaking new report into the underrepresentation of British authors and illustrators of colour within the children’s book publishing industry. BookTrust Represents was launched in response to the research, to address the imbalance in the industry and increase diverse representation in children’s books.



Representation of people of colour among children’s book authors and illustrators (2007-2017)

The British children’s book sector is thriving; more children’s books are sold in the UK than ever before. However, the cohort of people that creates these books does not reflect the makeup of the UK, where an array of lives, cultures, identities and stories have overlapped for many years. This presentation, based on a report commissioned by BookTrust, seeks to establish a clear picture of who writes and illustrates the books our children read. These authors, illustrators and author-illustrators are referred to throughout the report as ‘creators of colour’.  Findings are presented from an analysis of all children’s books published in the UK between 2007 and 2017 and interviews with 15 British creators of colour.

Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor, University College London

Melanie Ramdarshan Bold is a Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at University College London, where she teaches and researches topics related to publishing/book cultures. Her main research interest centres on the contemporary history of authorship, publishing and reading, with a focus on children’s and young adult (YA) books. Melanie’s book Inclusive young adult fiction: authors of colour in the United Kingdom was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2019.


Sita Brahmachari, Author

Sita Brahmachari is a multi-award-winning writer of novels, plays, novellas and short stories. Sita’s first novel, Artichoke Hearts, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Award and was voted in the Guardian’s top 50 books celebrating diversity since the 1950s. Her subsequent Carnegie-nominated novels are: Jasmine Skies, Red Leaves, Tender Earth, Worry Angels and Zebra Crossing Soul Song. Kite Spirit was nominated for the UKLA book award.

Sita’s latest illustrated novella is Corey’s Rock. She has been writer-in residence for BookTrust, is an Amnesty International Ambassador and speaks in schools, at festivals and conferences. In 2018 Tender Earth received the UK Honour from the International Board of Books for Young People. Sita is based in London. @SitaBrahmachari


Artichoke Hearts. London, Macmillan, 2011. (9+)
Brace Mouth, False Teeth. Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke, 2014. (11+)
Car Wash Wish. Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke, 2016. (11+)
Corey’s Rock. Illustrated by Jane Ray. Hereford: Otter-Barry Books, 2018. (9+)
Jasmine Skies. London, Macmillan, 2017. (11+)
Kite Spirit. London, Macmillan, 2013. (9+)
Red Leaves. London, Macmillan, 2014 (9+)
Tender Earth. London, Macmillan, 2017. (9+)
Worry Angels. Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke, 2017. (11+)
Zebra Crossing Soul Song. Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke, 2018. (11+)


Peter Kalu, Author

Peter Kalu is the author of three young adult novels: The Silent Striker, Being Me and Zombie XI. The Silent Striker is a semi-autobiographical novel which tells the story of how the world of a teen boy, Marcus, changes when he finds himself becoming deaf. Marcus appears as a side character in Being Me, which features as main protagonist the neuro-atypical Adele Vialli; and Marcus is also glimpsed in Zombie XI. The publishing rights to all three novels have been sold to Ghana and the USA.

Peter has also set onto page two folktales for younger children, Anansi and Tiger’s Stew and The Singer and the Snorer, tales he has told at countless schools within the UK and beyond. He has written nine novels in all, including science fiction, crime and comedy, as well as for the stage and screen. Based in Manchester, he is Artistic Director at Cultureword. peterkalu.com @peterkalu


Anansi the Spider and Tiger’s Stew: A folk tale retold. UK: Satchel 2006. (5-12)
Being Me. London: HopeRoad, 2016. (12-18)
The Silent Striker. London: HopeRoad, 2015. (12-18)
The Singer and the Snorer: A folk tale retold. UK: Satchel 2006. (9-13)
Zombie XI. London: HopeRoad, 2016. (10-16)

Onjali Q Raúf , Author

Onjali is the founder of Making Herstory, an organisation mobilising men, women and children from all walks of life to tackle the abuse and trafficking of women and girls in the UK and beyond. Her first novel, The Boy at the Back of the Class, was shortlisted for the 2019 Blue Peter Book Award. It portrays the refugee crisis through the eyes of a child at a UK school. Written in honour of the many children she has encountered in her works with refugee aid teams, it aims to enhance children’s understanding of what the label ‘refugee’ means, and what they can do to support children fleeing wars and other man-made disasters.

Her second novel, The Star Outside My Window, similarly touches on a difficult issue; this time, that of domestic violence leading to homicide, as experienced by a ten-year-old child. Onjali lives in east London. @OnjaliRauf


The Boy at the Back of the Class. London: Orion Children’s Books, 2018. (8-12)
The Star Outside My Window. London: Orion Children’s Books, 2019. (8-12)

Chair: Jake Hope, Reading Development and Children’s Book Consultant, Chair, Youth Libraries Group

Jake is a reading development and children’s book consultant. He chaired the Diverse Voices promotion identifying the 50 best diverse children’s books, wrote ‘Voice and Vision’, the guidelines book for the School Library Association, and is an editorial adviser for CILIP’s new children’s magazine and listings guide: ‘Pen and inc.’ Jake is currently Chair of the National Youth Libraries Group and chairs the advisory panel for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards. A passionate believer in making libraries and reading accessible for all, Jake is a regular commentator on children’s books and the library sector.