Mairi Kidd is managing director of Barrington Stoke, an award-winning independent publisher working to make books accessible to more readers, especially those with dyslexia and visual stress. The company’s roster of authors and illustrators includes many of the UK’s best known storytellers, from Kevin Brooks and Malorie Blackman to Michael Morpurgo and Julia Donaldson. Mairi previously worked on the creation of children’s content for education, broadcast and live performance.
Why Diversity Matters
by Mairi Kidd
I believe in books. Of course I do; I’m a publisher. I live and breathe books. For escapism, entertainment, edification and so much more, I don’t think you can do better than pick up a book.
But my real, deep, abiding passion is for books that help young people to broaden their horizons, develop empathy, engage with the way the world works and stand up for what is right. The question of diversity is key here. Unless we have a broad, bold and diverse publishing industry producing a breadth of bold and diverse books, we have done young people down. We have served only one sector of the market – which of course is already the best-served – and we have not encouraged these readers to broaden their own horizons and engage with the world in all of its complexity and glory.
Here at Barrington Stoke we are committed to diversity and inclusion across our publishing. Our books use a dyslexia-friendly typeface and gently tinted paper because we know that these simple tweaks can open up a world of reading to young people with dyslexia or visual stress, who cannot access text with ease otherwise. So from the off we’re informed by our readers’ needs, and driven by a desire to reach more readers. From there we think about other reasons young people may not engage with books. If the world you see reflected back at you in books is white and affluent and you are neither, if your body is different to all the bodies you see, if you see your home or community misrepresented, sentimentalised, marginalised or simply absent, or if no one, but no one, lives in anything approaching the family situation you have at home, you may quite reasonably feel that books are not for you.
For this reason, we interrogate our publishing all the time. Do we publish authors of colour? Do we challenge gender and other stereotypes? Do we reflect the reality of the modern world? Do we avoid sentimentalising locations and lifestyles, such as farming or island communities? Do we represent individuals with disabilities hidden and otherwise, in word and picture and – importantly – do we represent diverse characters on our covers? Do we have incidental and explicit diversity, and do we ensure that we tackle the issues facing communities or individuals while not defining communities or individuals by their perceived difference?
We will always strive to do more, but for now we believe we are pretty diverse. To give just a few examples, this year we published Non Pratt’s Unboxed, a story of a group of friends which includes an LGBT character and characters of different ethnicities. We published a picture book with a black family (and a lot of frogs and toads) as protagonists. We’ve had a female ninja, a female warrior, two girls escaping a horrifying situation in Victorian London to a life together, lots of dads acting as primary carers, a Sikh WWI pilot, a hero with Aspergers and many, many more brilliant, inspiring, engaging stories that are all the stronger for their diversity. After all, if the point of reading is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, don’t we want as many different shoes as possible?