Championing Diversity in Literature: An Unforgettable Night at the Diverse Book Awards
By Denisha Polin
I was delighted to attend the Diverse Book Awards last night, an incredible event hosted at Waterstones in Piccadilly. What better place to celebrate than the home of books itself?
The Diverse Book Awards were established in 2019 by award-winning children’s and YA author Abiola Bello and award-winning publicist Helen Lewis. When Abiola discovered the limited availability of book awards for diverse literature, despite the growing conversation about the need for more diversity in books, she decided to take action, and so, the Diverse Book Awards were born.
Accelerated Reader and the Diverse Book Awards
On Accelerated Reader, the Diverse Book Awards serve as one of the award lists that students quiz throughout the year. This encourages young readers to explore diverse literature and promotes inclusivity. Additionally, the awards prompt librarians to order these books for their school libraries, ensuring that a wider range of voices are accessible to all students. Currently, there are 40 nominated titles on Accelerated Reader, with 9 of the 12 on this year’s children’s longlist. Efforts are ongoing to expand this collection even further.
This year, the Diverse Book Awards featured an impressive children’s longlist, sponsored by Renaissance. The longlist included the following titles:
- A Flash of Fireflies by Aisha Bushby (Farshore) – AR Quiz #243278
- Ajay and The Mumbai Sun by Varsha Shah (Chicken House) – AR Quiz #243519
- Future Hero: Race To Fire Mountain by Remi Blackwood (Scholastic) – AR Quiz #243482
- Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu by Maisie Chan (Piccadilly Press) – AR Quiz #242755
- Kiki Kallira Conquers A Curse by Sangu Mandanna (Hodder Children’s Books) – AR Quiz #241329
- Marv and The Dino Attacks by Alex Falase-Koya, illustrated by Paula Bowles (Oxford University Press)
- Mia and the Lightcasters by Janelle McCurdy, illustrated by Ana Latese (Faber Children’s) – AR Quiz #243597
- Sadé and her Shadow Beasts by Rachel Faturoti, illustrated by Rumbidzai Savanhu (Hodder Children’s Books)
- The Elemental Detectives by Patrice Lawrence (Scholastic) – AR Quiz #243451
- The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger by J.T. Williams, illustrated by Simone Douglas (Farshore) – AR Quiz #243476
- The Secret of Haven Point by Lisette Auton, illustrated by Valentina Toro (Puffin) – AR Quiz #243652
- The Twig Man by Sana Rasoul (Hashtag Press)
My Experience as a Judge
When we received the invitation from Abiola to participate in the judging process, I was thrilled. After careful consideration amongst the team, it was decided that I would represent Renaissance as a judge for the Children’s category. I couldn’t have been more eager to tuck into the books – what a lineup! Week by week the books began to arrive to our office in Canary Wharf. Soon I had 12 books on my table, waiting to be read.
It was a challenging task to rank my top 9 out of the 12 books on the longlist. Each book was a powerful representation of diverse narratives, crafted by talented authors and illustrators. I could not help but feel a sense of pride while reading these stories, as they celebrated different cultures, races, ethnicities, and religions with boldness and authenticity. From character name’s such as Ayana and the reference to African tribes and culture throughout Remi Blackwood’s Future Hero: Race to Fire Mountain, or cultural dishes like Fasoliya (white been stew) a Kurdish dish referenced in Sana Rasoul’s The Twig Man or setting, as seen in the vivid imagery of the Mumbai slums and railway stations in Ajay and the Mumbai Sun.
As I made my choices, I realised that these books would have been a treasure to me as a child. Admittedly, the publishing industry has a long way to go before it can be considered inclusive, however stories like these are a step in the right direction for making children’s literature more relatable.
The Main Event
The main event took place at Waterstones in Piccadilly, a gathering of publishers, editors, authors, illustrators, and educators within the world of books. We were greeted with fruity rum punch and canapés, setting the stage for an evening dedicated to celebrating representation in reading.
There were nine categories in total this year, including the new Readers’ Choice Awards, determined solely by public votes.
The winners for the Children’s and Young Adult categories for the Readers Choice were:
Best Children’s Book:
The Twig Man by Sana Rasoul (Hashtag Press)
Best Young Adult Book:
Love In Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello (Simon & Schuster)
The 2023 award winners for the Diverse Book Awards included:
Best Children’s Book:
The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger by J.T. Williams, illustrated by Simone Douglas (Farshore)
Best Young Adult Book:
When Our Worlds Collided by Danielle Jawando (Simon & Schuster)
Additionally, the prestigious Malorie Blackman Impact award was launched, celebrating her incredible influence on children’s and YA literature. This award will be awarded annually to pioneers in literature, ensuring that her legacy endures.
An Equitable Education System Through Literature
As a former English Tutor, my exposure to the English Curriculum made it clear that diverse voices must be given a platform and more visibility. Award organisations like the Diverse Book Awards play a significant role in amplifying these voices and stories.
In a report by Penguin, it was revealed that, while over a third of school students in England are not White British, less than 1% of candidates for GCSE English Literature in 2019 answered a question on a novel by an author of colour. This highlights the need to give writers from ethnic minorities a stronger voice and continue to celebrate their work.
The Diverse Book Awards have become a beacon of hope in the world of literature, promoting inclusivity, celebrating diversity, and acknowledging the importance of representation in the books we read. It is through such awards that we take steps towards a more equitable and inclusive literary landscape. We look forward to what next year’s event will bring and the impact it will make in the world of literature.
Elliott, V, N.A, Lesley. Chantiluke, R, Courtney,M (2021) Lit in Colour: Diversity in Literature in English Schools. (p.6)