A 14-year-old boy has called on the UKâ€™s publishers to include more disabled characters in childrenâ€™s books, and asked why the villains of childrenâ€™s stories are so often â€œdeformedâ€.
In a report for BBC Newsround, schoolboy Frankie, who was born with a disability, addressed JK Rowlingâ€™s publisher, Bloomsbury, about the issue. â€œI think if we involve disabled people in books, we can raise awareness and it will become the norm to people. They wonâ€™t stare, they wonâ€™t make comments, and life would get better, society would get better,â€ he said.
He met Bloomsburyâ€™s head of childrenâ€™s and educational publishing, Emma Hopkin, asking her why â€œin most books villains are usually deformedâ€.
â€œI think thereâ€™s an enormous amount of villains in books,â€ Hopkin said, â€œand Iâ€™m trying desperately hard now to think of an example of a non-deformed villain, and I canâ€™t think of one.â€
But the editor said the publishing industry was â€œvery aware of the need to represent diversity in our booksâ€, and that â€œwe are working very hard here at Bloomsbury and elsewhere in the industry to ensure that everybody is represented in some way in some booksâ€.
Frankie said he was satisfied, but said he would continue to check publishing websites to â€œsee if there are any small hints of an asthma pump or a hearing aid, so that I do know theyâ€™re still pushing the idea of diversity in books.â€
Hopkin said that Frankie was â€œthe most incredible childâ€, and that he â€œput me on the spot with his question about villains â€“ and the only one I could see in my head was Voldemort, who is, of course, facially disfiguredâ€.
â€œHowever, he is not the only villain of the Harry Potter novels â€“ the Malfoys and Bellatrix Lestrange are villains too,â€ added Hopkin, also pointing to Cruella de Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, Mrs Coulter from Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, President Snow from the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Capricorn from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke â€œto name but a fewâ€ non-disfigured villains.
â€œWe continue to include diverse characters in our publishing â€“ as do many other publishing companies,â€ Hopkins said. â€œWe are constantly working with our authors and illustrators to ensure that our books represent the society we live in. Even if the diversity is not referenced in the text, it can be referenced in illustrations.â€
Alexandra Strick, manager and cofounder of Inclusive Minds, which campaigns for diversity in childrenâ€™s literature, said that publishing was â€œdefinitely improvingâ€ its approach to disability, with an increasing number of presses taking up its offer of training and advice on diversity. â€œItâ€™s really positive. Over the last 18 months, weâ€™ve seen a massive increase in uptake.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve moved away from mostly negative depictions of disability â€“ historically, it was very much that villains were depicted as disfigured,â€ said Strick. â€œBut we still have a long way to go to include disabled characters naturally. They do tend to be featured as an issue â€“ itâ€™s a book about disability, or a character is very much defined by being disabled. What we want to see is natural, casual images of disability, in a non-preachy way. Itâ€™s about natural inclusion.â€