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What is on our Bookshelves - an opinion piece by author Miriam Halahmy

Posted By Jacob Hope, 18 September 2018
Updated: 18 September 2018

 

At the Youth Libraries Group Conference, Miriam Halahmy will be speaking on a panel with Candy Gourlay in discussion with Chloe Germaine Buckley from Manchester Metropolitan University talking about unconscious bias, cultural appropriation and colonial influences in children's literature and collections of these.  Here Miriam talks about her time as Head of Special Needs at a school in Camden.

 

In 1981 I was Head of Special Needs in a Camden secondary school and The Rampton Report on the education of children from ethnic minorities was published. The recommendations of that report had a huge impact. Our school had many children of Asian and African Caribbean descent as well as many other cultural backgrounds. As a staff we were concerned to promote a multicultural society and the classroom as a microcosm of that society.

 

One of Rampton’s recommendations was that teachers review all books and materials and assess them for appropriateness in today’s multicultural society. I remember so well the day I went back to my classroom, looked through my tiny library and threw away those books which presented a negative view of children from a different culture.  It was a painful process as we had no money to replace them but there was no way I would have left such books on my shelves anymore.

 

A recent report stated that only 1% of children’s books have a BAME main character and only 4% have any BAME characters. Is that because we threw our books away 30 years ago?

 

No, of course not.

 

But our work embracing the multicultural society – valuing each child and the cultural background they brought with them, displaying world maps to showing where everyone came from, etc,  – often feels today as though it is being ridiculed. There are claims that the multicultural concept of society has undermined our Britishness.

 

Rubbish! is my answer. We were the bedrock of creating a more tolerant society and it seems the job has hardly begun in the world of children’s books. I would urge anyone providing books to children and young people to scan carefully through your collections as we did and literally throw out the less enlightened books and materials.

 

Meanwhile my job as a writer is to ensure that all characters in my books represent the multicultural world I come from, have lived in and worked in all my life. But then I have always found that quite a natural part of my writing.

 

Miriam Halahmy

www.miriamhalahmy.com

Tags:  collections  conference  Diversity  libraries  reading  representation 

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