Children’s Books Ireland in partnership with KPMG is proud to launch Free To Be Me, a project that will ensure that every child can see themselves reflected in a book as well as learning about the lives of others whose experiences and perspectives may differ from their own.
The project showcases the richness and diversity of modern Irish society, with Free to Be Me: The Diversity, Inclusion and Representation Reading Guide, featuring original cover artwork commissioned from illustrator Ashwin Chacko and contains reviews of over 360 books, expertly chosen for their excellence and representation of diverse themes and characters.
In recognition of children’s individual reading preferences, abilities and needs, an accessible edition of the guide has been developed, along with a database of accessible formats and translations in partnership with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland.
According to the OECD, getting students reading for pleasure may be one of the most effective ways to leverage social change, with this change best effected when readers feel connected to, and reflected in, the stories they are reading. But with just 10% of UK titles published in 2019 featuring characters of colour, all children are not yet seeing themselves in the books they read and in the images they see. In Irish schools, due to a budget cut in 2008, no funding has been available to replenish school libraries for over a decade, and school and classroom libraries are in need of transformation if they are to reflect students’ differing cultures, ethnicities, abilities, families and beliefs.
The publication of Free To Be Me is accompanied by a wider book-gifting and awareness campaign across Irish schools, libraries and bookstores over the coming months. With support from KPMG, William Fry, Citi and The Ireland Funds, primary and secondary schools will receive a Free To Be Me Little Library of 100 books carefully selected from the guide alongside a high quality resource pack to further engage with these books.
Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children’s Books Ireland, said:
‘Ireland today is more diverse than ever, a reality that is not reflected on bookshelves in many homes and schools. In launching Free To Be Me, Children’s Books Ireland aims to shine a spotlight on these “missing” stories, celebrating diverse perspectives and helping young readers develop positive self-image as they see themselves in a book. We want this guide to spark discussions at home and in school, to encourage empathy and build solidarity so that every child and family feels included and welcome.’
Seamus Hand, Managing Partner of KPMG Ireland, said:
‘In KPMG Ireland, inclusion is how we unleash the collective diversity of our people. We continue to build an inclusive culture that encourages, supports, and celebrates the diverse voices of our people. We respect each other and draw strengths from our differences. We know that when this happens our people can be more creative, innovative, and successful. The Free To Be Me project has a similar ethos, it is hugely important in terms of showcasing diversity in children’s books and fostering a sense of belonging for everyone in society. Having books reflective of diversity will ultimately lead to a more inclusive society and we are proud to play a role in supporting that.’
Free To Be Me: The Diversity, Inclusion and Representation Reading Guide is available free of charge through every library authority in the Republic of Ireland. A copy has been sent to every school on the island of Ireland in partnership with the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency and The O’Brien Press.
A digital version of both editions, along with a primary and secondary school resource packs and colouring sheets, can be viewed or downloaded here.