Making books more inclusive
How many of the books you read growing up had Black, Asian or minority ethnic heroes? Matilda, no. The Famous Five, Peter Pan, no. Bilkis, 22, is on a mission to stock our libraries with authors and characters that better represent children from African cultures. So they can explore their culture, feel proud of their heritage and love the way they look.
Making books more representative of African cultures
'In the UK, there are Black children who don’t feel connected to their African culture. They aren’t given a chance to be proud of where they’re from. There is also a lack of education around African culture in schools. So, I decided to do something about it.
My final major project, a publishing brand called Tribe of Wonders, is centred around being proud of being Black/African and British.'
Where do I really belong?
'I’m Nigerian but I grew up in the UK. I’ve been back there a couple of times, to visit family over the years. In Nigeria they view me as a foreigner even though I speak the same language and eat the same food, which makes me feel like I don’t truly belong there. And then in the UK, even though it’s multicultural, there are people telling me to go back to where I came from. So it makes you think "where do I really belong?”
I wouldn’t have struggled with my identity as much if school did more to talk about different cultures and how empowering it can be. I think it’s important for children to feel proud of where they come from, whether that’s from one place or more. It shouldn’t define you but become part of you. My project aims to connect Black children to their heritage and introduce them to communities full of wonder and acceptance.’
The wonder of books
Wonders of writing
‘I wanted to focus on literature because it’s one of the main resources we have to educate people, especially children.
When I was growing up, my mum would take us to the library every weekend. I loved reading (still do) but there were very few with Black characters in the books. And if there were, they were either painted in a negative light or were side characters. It was true for educational books as well, like books teaching phonetics or spelling.
That’s why I wanted, not only to show Black children on the covers, but to tell more stories about African culture. If children see someone who looks like them in books, they feel more beautiful, proud of how they look and feel.’
facts about Black representation in children's books
of children's books published in the UK in 2019 contained a person of BAME background (CLPE, Reflecting Realities)
of UK primary school children are from a BAME background (CLPE, Reflecting Realities)
Exploring rich cultures
'Isimbi and the Land of a Thousand Hills is about a girl who goes to Rwanda because she’s never been before. All my characters live in the UK so the books are about them exploring their heritage and where they come from.
You know, I have a cousin whose roots are Bengali, Jamaican, and Nigerian, and he thought there were only animals in Africa! This is because of the narrative that has been told about the Continent of Africa, through literature and film, it’s always safaris, lions, and tigers. Or people needing charity. They don’t talk about how rich the culture is. Did you know there are over 500 dialects and languages in Nigeria?! That’s just one country in Africa.’
Diversity is powerful
‘I hope we can be more representative as a society. Not just characters in books, but in school curriculums, people in politics, authors and illustrators who get published. Seeing something that has been made by someone like you is powerful. It will touch people who feel they do not have anyone.
We just need to give people a chance. Not because they are black or because they are non-white but because we see value in them. Because they are from a different culture. That is a bonus.'
Cultural difference is the very thing that you can use to make positive changes that will benefit our communities and wider society.