Did you know only 1% of kid’s books published in 2017 featured a main character from a black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds?
Allow me to reassure you, that’s a solid one percent, numero uno and far from a typo. It turns out the Arts Council partnered up with CPLE, to fund the very first and only research study that evaluated and determined the quality of ethnic representation within UK children’s literature.
Which leads me to the introduction of Aimée Felone, one of the co-founders from ‘Knights Of’, which by the way, is a reference taken from the 12th century Arthurian Legend where the Knights of the ‘Round Table’, offered everyone an equal voice and an equal say in all matters.
Ready in my shining armour, aka, my recording device at hand and what has been described as my charismatic persona, the chronicles of ‘Knights Of’ is set to take place in the hustle and bustle of London during the 21st century. Wanting to waste no time, we jumped right into the story of why the company was created?
“Children’s publishing on the whole has a massive diversity crisis, in terms of workforce as well as output. After working in publishing for over five years I left traditional publishing back in 2017, to co-found ‘Knights Of’ with David Stevens. We wanted to address the need in a more permanent way. The journey so far has been great.
I mean the first few months were just myself and David now day to day we are a team of five, so it was you know, scary at times but we managed to secure private investment. Our first book came out in August last year and our second book came out in October of last year too. Now our third book will be out next month, (February) our fourth will be out in April and we have a whole slate planned for 2019 as well.”
Towards the end of 2018, ‘Knights Of’ hosted their second pop-up book store which turned out to be yet again, another mighty success. Leading to the successful crowd fund of a permanent home in Brixton, set to be employing someone (could this be you) and opening later this year. Curious to know how effective the conversation about the lack of diversity has been with the audience and the industry?
“I mean the conversation was largely conversation a few years ago and that is why we left our jobs. It was all conversation you know? Nothing permanently put in place to ensure that diversity wasn’t just a publishing trend. We at Knights Of are committed to hiring diversely as much as publishing inclusively. The industry itself is a very homogeneous, mainly white middle class area. If you don’t have the people at the table and expressing their opinions and expertise, it bleeds out into what is and isn’t published.”
It should come as no surprise that at the start of any new ventures, we are faced with a set of different obstacles to overcome and this case is no different. From representing a core set of values in the children’s publishing industry, to the impact the company has in society, Aimée shares what her experience has been like so far:
“As an indie publisher it’s always tricky to cut through the noise of larger companies and get your books seen and heard – to get it on the shelves of popular bookshops and the reviews that it needs. So we’re trying to make sure that our books get the same exposure. The support from the pop-ups has been great – from both the industry and the wider community, parents and kids who have all just been relieved and ecstatic to find characters and authors that are representative of themselves and their lives.”
Already having an insight into what book releases to expect from ‘Knights Of’ this year, I was ready to explore if there was anything else the publishing company is set to surprise us with?
Due to the “amazing reaction the two pop-up book shops have had, the day to day experiences when we ran the shop saw everybody from every socio-economic background, to people who had never stepped in a book shop before come through our doors. We had a lot of white parents say they were sick and tired of only seeing white kids in the books that they would be giving their children, because that’s not their kid’s reality when they go to school, it’s not the areas that they live in either. So it wasn’t just people from diverse backgrounds who were calling out for these books, it’s people from white backgrounds as well.” As a result, the pop-up book shop will now be embarking on a UK and Ireland tour this year.
With enough time to get personal, surely, you’d want to know what the co-founder of a publishing company finds meaningful in books right?
“I’ve been a massive reader since a child, I’ve always enjoyed that feeling of escape that you get when you know you find a book that you love. I got into children’s publishing to recreate that feeling for other kids and to make sure that all kids are able to get enjoyment from reading and make sure it is accessible to all as well. I was a huge fan of Jacqueline Wilson’s books growing up, I think looking back on why I enjoyed them so much, it’s because they featured kids that were going through real life issues.”
Ending on this note, if you are breaking into the publishing industry or if you’re a writer with an interest in this topic check out #booksmadebetter or head to Knights Of’s open ‘Live Chat’ for any questions you might have.