60% lost love for reading because stories lack representation

NEW YORK — More than a third of children don’t feel represented in the books they read – because of their gender or ethnicity. A poll of 1,000 American children between six and 12 and their parents finds nearly three-quarters (74%) read regularly — but agree that characters always look the same and don’t represent different views.

Of the 50 percent of girls who don’t feel represented, 39 percent say lead roles in stories always seem to belong to boys. Meanwhile, only 13 percent of parents have seen minority races represented in the books their children read.

It also emerged that 62 percent think their child would be more inclined to read more often if the main characters represented similarities to them.

Commissioned by the personalized book brand Wonderbly and conducted by OnePoll, the study finds 61 percent stated that a lack of representation in terms of race and gender has turned them off to reading books altogether.

Diversity ‘vital in engaging a child’ when it comes to books

Other characteristics children haven’t seen in their books, according to their parents, include physical disabilities, gender identity differences, and varying religious beliefs. Skin conditions, allergies, and wearing glasses are also rare sights in books.

Parents also identified uncommon hair colors, having dyslexia, and living in an apartment as other scenarios which authors often leave out. Three-quarters believed it’s important for kids to see themselves represented in the wide array of content they consume, including films, TV, and books.

“Children want nothing more than to feel a part of a story and the research has highlighted while some are able to, for varying reasons, others are not,” says Asi Sharabi, CEO and co-founder of Wonderbly, in a statement. “It’s vital in engaging a child for them to feel like they can relate to either the story or the characters involved. The research also found that parents are quite aware of this too when it comes to finding content they consume as they strive to find things like books that are more representative of their children.”

Nearly half (44%) of children would like to see more people like themselves in movies, 44 percent say the same about TV shows, and 43 percent would like to feel more visible in video games.

Do kids want more inclusive stories?

While 36 percent of kids have never seen a character they relate to on television, 55 percent have asked their parents to buy books with more personalities that speak, look, or act like them.

Parents believe representation is vital in such mediums in order to normalize their feelings, help them relate more to a story, and to know other children find themselves in the same circumstances as them.

Another 37 percent don’t want them to feel like they’re different, according to the OnePoll data. Two in three (67%) also believe seeing characters like them in books will enable them to feel like they can achieve anything. However, 58 percent of parents admit it’s difficult to find books that do represent their youngsters.

“It’s so important for children to feel represented in the books they read,” Sharabi says. “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. Books are also a way to educate your child on an infinite number of topics and themes that shape how they view the world. Personalization helps children relate to the storylines and makes them far more receptive to the key messages and learnings of each tale.”

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. That sounds plausible, but what is the point? Who is to write these books? In society today, anyone who attempts to produce music, fashion or even food that is outside of their own cultural/racial/socio-economic boundary is immediately accused of improper “appropriation”. So in order to remedy the issues outlined in the article, the only acceptable solution is that the readers, who are not represented in the literature they read, must either write their own or find writers who share the sa⁰,me conditions or characteristics to write material they will find relevant and aappealing, as current societal demands will not tolerate anyone to speak on a situation they have not experienced personally.

  2. One might question the purpose of reading entirely, if it is only appealing to read about characters who are a mirror image of the reader. Where is the place for fantasy or broadening horizons of learning if the only subject material considered interesting is that which closely resembles what the reader is and does on a regular basis?

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