I grew up in a very white country. So the child Bookwitch was not really able to see that there could be more black characters in her fiction. The books reflected – mostly – what I saw around me.
There was a piece about the lack of black children’s books [characters] by Lenny Henry in The Bookseller. I wish he’d had someone in his reading world that he could have identified with. But he also makes an assumption about being white and reading ‘white’ fiction. He assumes that I could find myself in the books I read, because Julian, Dick, George and Anne, and I, all have white skin.
I always felt like the outsider. Others were more fun, slimmer, richer, cleverer, had more friends, had siblings, had two parents, were braver, had dogs, or could ride horses. And so on. They weren’t me.
I used to spend my time thinking that ‘if only’ then my life too would be ‘that other thing which defined others’.
So no, I didn’t read Blyton thinking they were my kind of people. I read the Famous Five books for the same thrills that Lenny presumably did. The books were about others. White others, but still others.
Sweden in the 1950s or 60s could not be expected to have black fiction. Now it can, and to some extent it does. I was pleased to find the young first time authors I met in Edinburgh 18 months ago were less white than they might have been fifty years earlier.
And in Britain there should be more authors and books for and about non-white people. But I don’t think I personally can make that happen. I hope that those who want to write, will, and that publishers have seen the light and will publish.
Lenny mentions that when reading with his daughter, there was one child with dreadlocks in Harry Potter. The thing is, if that had been my childhood reading, I would merely have filed away another thing I was not, which is magic. And while I still don’t feel I belong more than anyone else, I have realised that many – most? – of us tend to believe that others are much more ‘that thing we’d want to be’.