Over a third of children don’t feel represented in books they read, research shows

Talking with 1000 children and their parents, Wonderbly research shows that the industry continues to fail to represent a diverse range of genders and ethnicities.

14 November 2022


The impact of representation on a child’s self-esteem, and its importance in how they place themselves in the world, is well documented. A recent report by Wonderbly, a publisher of personalised books, reveals the same truth. Almost seven in every ten parents (67 per cent) believe that if their child sees seeing characters like them, it will enable them to “feel like they can achieve anything”. Yet, the same report reveals that more than a third of children don’t feel represented in the books they read “because of their gender or ethnicity”.

The report reflects another well-known fact – it goes beyond publishing. 36 per cent of children said they have never seen a character they relate to on television, with 44 per cent of children saying they’d like to see more people like them in films.

It has an impact on how much children are reading too. 62 per cent of parents believe their child would read more often if the main character was similar to them, while 61 per cent stated that a lack of representation when it came to race and gender had put them off reading altogether.

SWNS: Wonderbly (Copyright © SWNS, 2022)

Out of the 1000 children aged six to 12 OnePoll surveyed for the research – commissioned by Wonderbly – alongside their parents, a total of 74 per cent pointed out that characters always look the same.

Despite numerous reports alerting to the state of representation in children’s media, diversity has actually decreased in children’s publishing since 2020. In April, a report by WordsRated, measured how the surge in commitment to representation during the Black Lives Matter protests was short-lived. After a “BLM bounce”, there has been a 23 per cent decrease in Black characters in children’s bestsellers. When the report launched, we spoke to a publisher and an illustrator about the issue – which you can read here.

The more recent report from Wonderbly shows how there is homogeneity across depictions of gender, class and ethnicity in publishing, as well as a lack of characters shown as having a physical disability. Concluding the report, Wonderbly lists the ways children aren’t represented in books according to parents, with transgender representation listed as the top answer.

Asi Sharabi, CEO and co-founder of Wonderbly, states: “It’s vital in engaging a child for them to feel like they can relate to either the story or the characters involved.” Asi adds: “When children see themselves as the hero of a story, it helps them believe that they can do anything they can imagine; that any story they imagine could be their story.”

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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