The World in Multicolour

Lantana Publishing on the Oscars Diversity Debate

in: The World in Multicolour

oscars diversity 2016 film nominations publishing


Thank you to Reflections, where this article was first published. Reflections is a UK based film blog with a global perspective that believes in promoting cultural diversity through cinema. You can read this article on the Reflections site here:

Here at Lantana Publishing, an independent publishing house dedicated to challenging the lack of diversity in children’s books, we have been watching the Oscars’ ‘Diversity Debate’ unfold with interest.

Hardly a day has gone by in the past few weeks without the news reporting that another industry heavyweight has waded into this dispute. Follow the #OscarsSoWhite and you can see the world’s reaction to the 2016 Oscars shortlist unfold: Hollywood power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, as well as esteemed director Spike Lee amongst others, have made it clear that they intend to boycott this year’s ceremony, while meanwhile, the debate has reached all the way to the White House. Barack Obama recently made his voice heard, commenting on the importance of everybody working within the film industry getting a “fair shot”.

While semantics might seem unimportant given the gravity of an issue that even the American president has seen fit to comment on, the inflammatory labels that have been applied to this news story – row, scandal, problem, furor to name but a few – threaten to turn what could be a debate into a cartoonish battleground: the gung-ho ‘for diversity’ team facing their bullish ‘against diversity’ opponents. Media coverage seems destined to turn the issue into a simple binary or a story with a clear-cut trajectory, moving from uncomplicated problem to solution.

In this vein, many commentators have lambasted Helen Mirren for her claim that “it’s unfair to attack the Academy”, because she speaks from a position of white privilege. However, it appears Mirren was not intending to dismiss the current criticism of the Academy, but inviting us to dig deeper and find the root of a wide-scale problem that simply reaches its culmination in the Academy’s nomination process. More often than not, it is her initial statement (in defence of the Academy) that is criticised as opposed to her later support of diversity in the film industry more widely. In fact, Mirren was adamant that “the issue we need to be looking at is what happens before the film gets to the Oscars – what kind of films are made, and the way in which they’re cast, and the scripts.”

In order for this to truly be a ‘debate’, defined as a public forum in which people exchange views and thrash out an issue, we need to accept that there are not only two sides to the argument; there are not simply two teams waving ‘yes, diversity’ and ‘no, diversity’ placards at each other but a whole spectrum of angles and views which deserve to be considered if we want to move forward to create a fairer and more tolerant space in which the arts can flourish. Under this aegis, the diversity debate should not simply be about awards ceremonies but about grass roots; not simply about race, but about the fair and equal representation of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age and disability in all walks of life and in all facets of arts production. To pounce on Mirren’s statement as simply ‘what you would expect’ from a celebrated white woman is to undermine the terms of this broader debate.

As a representative of the publishing industry, we would be the first to point out that this conversation is welcome – we strive to give authors and illustrators of minority backgrounds the opportunities to publish stories that celebrate their diverse and multicultural communities, beliefs and customs, and are aware of how unusual this makes us. What we know from experience is that it is a conversation that is complex, and should be on a large scale, taking into account many different industries and areas of public life – not just Hollywood. In fact, the attention shone on the film industry over the past few weeks – although a welcome call to arms – has created a glare that might prevent many from seeing the lack of diversity inherent in other industries.

There have been several high profile campaigns drawing attention to the lack of diversity in children’s books, not least the interest that transformed the Twitter #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign into a fully-functioning not-for-profit with a mission to promote diversity in publishing. The attention heaped on film, and the Academy’s failure for the second year running to nominate any actors from ethnic minority backgrounds, begs the question of why film generally makes the headlines more often than other media. Does the fact that films feature actors (and often those who have reached celebrity status) make the industry’s lack of diversity any more damaging than the corresponding lack of (fictional) characters from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds found in children’s books?

Surely, if we are to acknowledge that the Oscars’ ‘debate’ is actually a complex and nuanced discussion about the endemic problems within cultural representation, we also need to be aware of the fact that many of the people who work in high profile industries have their outlooks shaped by the books they read in their early years, before they even enter a career. Perhaps, as well as looking at the film industry and questioning why there are not more roles available to people from minority ethnic backgrounds, we should also consider the inequalities at the heart of book production that see barely 5% of the UK’s and US’s publishing output represent authors of cultural minorities.

Challenge the lack of diversity in children’s books and we may go a long way to educating future generations about the importance of every art form representing humanity in all its myriad forms.

To find out more about Lantana Publishing and their high quality, multicultural picture books for children, visit the website:


Blue Kangaroos and Library Cards: Love in Children’s Books

in: Children's books

Disney FrozenIt is an adage oft quoted that love comes in many shapes and sizes.  And nowhere is this more apparent than in children’s books, where love of the romantic kind often takes a back seat to other forms of love – whether love of a family member, love of a pet, or love of a scruffy teddy with a torn ear and a missing eye.  Frozen wasn’t Disney’s most popular film in years just on the merits of ‘Let It Go’, but on its moving, affectionate portrayal of a very real and true love between sisters.

This week sees two celebrations of different kinds of love – Valentine’s Day and International Friendship Week.  So, in honour of both of these celebrations, we thought we would bring you some of our favourite picture book examples of different kinds of love.

The love of aliens for underpants…

Material possessions in the adult world are usually associated with a great deal of guilt.  Do I spend too much time on my phone?  Could I live without my coffee machine?  Is it really that important to have the latest high spec, solid gold Apple Watch?  Luckily, material possessions in the picture book world have much gentler associations – whether it’s the cuddly toy we just can’t go to sleep without (Emma Chichester Clark’s I Love You, Blue Kangaroo), the hat we really want back (Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back) or the library card that opens up a whole new world of reading adventures (Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw’s Lulu Loves the Library).  So the answer is clear – switch off your phone, head to your local library and take notes from a few picture books on the true meaning of happiness.

Woof woof? Lulu Loves the Library Anna McQuinn Rosalind Beardshaw

Owning a pet is a defining experience in many children’s lives and love for a pet is a well-represented form of love in the world of picture books.  However, these pets don’t tend to stay in the form of well-behaved dogs, cats or hamsters.  Rather they come in a variety of unusual and…ahem…unsuitable shapes and sizes.  Examples include a disappearing Chinese dragon (Christoph Neimann’s The Pet Dragon), a rather large grey mammal with big ears and a trunk (David Walliams and Tony Ross’ The Slightly Annoying Elephant) and a Sabre-Toothed Rhino Toad (M. P. Robertson’s Hieronymus Betts and his Unusual Pets).  Real pets just don’t seem to cut it these days…

Family love

This really is the sun around which (almost) every picture book orbits – even those ostensibly about animals or pirates or alien underpants.  It could be the love of a child for her grandparents (John Burningham’s Grandpa, for instance) or a boy for his brothers (our own Phoenix Song by Tutu Dutta and Martina Peluso) or parents for their child (and it’s heartening to see books portraying diverse families slowly finding their way onto our shelves, such as Miriam Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown’s Stella Brings the Family).  Family love really does make the picture book world go round, and this isn’t surprising in the least when the home lies at the very heart of a young child’s life.

So there you have it – love defined by picture books (and we’ve only just scratched the surface).  Something to ponder this Valentine’s Day perhaps.


Education Resources for the Year of the Monkey

in: Children's books

A post for teachers or any parents interested in finding Chinese New Year activities to work on with their children.

Chinese New Year is one of the most widely celebrated festivals on the planet. It is also widely taught in UK primary schools across the country: there is something about the kaleidoscopic colour, vibrancy and exuberance of Chinese New Year customs that make it a magical topic for young children to engage with.

Chinese New Year KS2 resources education Dragon Dancer Jeremy Pailler Joyce Chng

Dragon Dancer
Joyce Chng and Jérémy Pailler’s Dragon Dancer capitalises on this vibrancy and magic and, in this story, the Lunar New Year provides an intriguing back-drop to a traditional coming-of-age story. Yao, has inherited the role of ‘Dragon Dancer’ from his grandfather, and by taking part in this ritual dance, watched over by his predecessors, our hero is able to grow in strength and stature. The story therefore features a variety of themes that are ripe for discussion: the role of family and tradition in our lives, the importance of various customs to those celebrating Chinese New Year and the idea of ‘chasing away the bad luck’, which reflects the annual spring clean that takes place in many households on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

You can read more about what the author and illustrator have to say about their book and some of these discussion points, here and here.

Dragon Dancer

Lantana Resources
Available to download for free from our website is a range of educational resources that pick up on many of these discussion threads and help develop students’ abilities to discuss and question the text they are reading. Included in the resource collection is a page-by-page Guided Reading sheet and a Curriculum Map which shows how the story can be linked to a variety of different subjects, as well as providing the theme for successful assemblies and whole school events. In addition to this, you will find a bank of comprehension activities, a selection of grammar worksheets (linked to the KS2 national curriculum), some suggestions for more investigative projects and discussions, and a teacher information file.

RE Chinese dragon investigation Dragon Dancer

Resource Round-up
To supplement a study of Dragon Dancer, there is a whole host of resources and activities available on the internet for teachers to download. As there are more available resources than there are hours in the day, we have provided you with a guide to some of the best.

1. TES Resources provide a comprehensive gallery of resources on Pinterest, very helpful if you want to quickly scan a ready-made collection for ideas that would work in your own setting. There are videos, colouring sheets, inspirational ideas for stories and craft activities.

2. The Guardian Teacher Network published an excellent article in 2014 which gives a helpful overview of the best Chinese New Year resources that are available on the internet. A highlight for us here, is the link to a bank of Chinese New Year related creative writing activities billed as a resource to appeal ‘to even the most reluctant of writers’.

3. The British Council’s annual education pack is, as usual, excellent and contains a real range of lesson plans and assembly ideas, many of which are linked specifically to the Year of the Monkey.

4. Top Marks win top marks indeed for their collection of practical activities. Their bank of resources provides instructions on making firecracker decorations, a red envelope and a monkey card, amongst others.

5. The CBBC website contains a range of videos about Chinese New Year. There is a video on ‘Preparing for Chinese New Year’, one on ‘Celebrating Chinese New Year’ and one on the ‘Chinese New Year Story.’

6. The BBC Food website also contains what looks to be some delicious Chinese New Year recipes that could be used by the adventurous teacher in the classroom.

7. Children will always enjoy looking at how Chinese New Year is celebrated around the country. There are particularly extensive celebrations in Manchester and London. Time Out provides a good overview of the range of activities on offer around the capital this year. Visit London also have a Pinterest board full of images of people around the city celebrating the festival.

8. For the technologically-minded, you can follow current news stories and up-to-the-minute conversations about the festival on Twitter by searching for #chinesenewyear.


Twitter Chinese New Year


9. And if you have time, and are ‘game’ for a laugh there’s always room for the obligatory humourous news story. Take a look at what the inventive people at Microsoft have done with the Xbox One to celebrate the Lunar New Year!


Chinese New Year photograph taken by Global Jet and available from Flickr: