Bookversal compiles a diverse range of children’s books for parents. Illustration: Joseph Joyce
Bookversal.com is a new platform allowing people to find and buy more diverse children’s books while championing independent book shops. Here, its creators explain the idea behind it.
Aleksandra Melnikova: Over a year ago, Laura Hobson and I had a conversation about the diversity (or lack thereof) of characters in traditional fairy tales and books. My kid could not relate to any of the beautiful golden-hair Rapunzels or Cinderellas out there.
Things got even more complicated when I’d undergone a divorce and had to answer questions like ’why do I have two homes?’.
I could see we’re not alone in this, speaking to other parents: the kinds of literature suggested and widely distributed by our largest book retailers often do not reflect the reality of the wonderful, complex world around us.
As designers, we felt we could do something about it, we could create a resource where diverse books (diverse representation, diverse circumstances, diverse backgrounds) would live and be easily found. Just like that, the Bookversal was born.
Laura Hobson: We were (and still are) really passionate about creating a way to highlight all these amazing diverse books.
With digital being so accessible and shareable nowadays, we decided a website would be the best format, and so we got to work and built it – all within 24 hours.
A true ’website in a day’. We also purposefully linked to independent bookstores where possible, to help introduce people to new places to buy books from.
Our dream is for it to be a go-to place for diverse book recommendations for children of every age, with new books on the list appearing as they’re written. The website is constantly growing – people can submit book recommendations, and we’re reviewing and posting them as soon as we get a moment out of our day jobs! We’re also hoping to develop it further, and build a system so people can share reviews.
AM: It’s important to us that more people know there’s an alternative to Disney and a different way of searching beyond the algorithms of Amazon.
Both of us believe in a designer’s skill set being a wonderful key to unlocking many positive changes in the world. One of those doors that are not fully unlocked is diverse representation, and we’re keen to change that by showcasing better and more diverse books.
LH: As we only created the engine in 24 hours, we went through an initial quick process choosing the titles and adding them to the website.
We analysed tons of independent sites, and existing lists of the best five, 10, 20 books etc, and once we had a list of potential books we realised they slotted into natural categories that could be put on to the website: babies, toddlers, kids over four years of age, kids over 10, diverse families, diverse cultures, diverse emotions, true to self and breaking stereotypes (this is one of our favourite categories – listing ‘traditional’ fairy tales with a diverse twist).
We then also included a call to action on the site for people to submit books, adding new books as the suggestions come in, making the list increasingly crowdsourced and “people-powered”.
My personal favourite on our list is A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza.
The story is really lovely and heartwarming.
It’s based around a cute little bird called Choco, searching for his mother by looking for someone who looks just like him, and eventually realising that love is what makes a family, not a similar appearance. I think the message of families can come in all shapes and sizes’ is delivered beautifully, and is a great way to introduce adoption and non-traditional families to children.
AM:Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo is one of my favourites. I love the format of this book – one page per one strong, independent, talented woman.
LH: We’re hoping bookversal.com will appeal to a wide range of people – adults who are looking for children’s books and are tired of the same old recommendations; kids looking for stories and fairy tales to relate to; and anyone who realises that the world is diverse and beautiful, and that we need to promote books that reflect that.
AM: I’ve shared our search engine with my kid’s school and they were very grateful for the resource.
The challenge is that most schools are locked into digital reading systems, the likes of Active Learn and similar, with digital versions of the books being presented at home to each pupil. The books there don’t change too often.
That, combined with the fact that many schools are not at the forefront of innovation when it comes to new literature or digital systems, often due to the lack of funding, means that results in tried-and-tested book choices often lack depth and representation.
And let’s not forget Section 28, which was active until 2003, preventing many forms of openness or diversity when it comes to kids’ study materials.
We’ve got a lot of work to do in that space. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to collaborate!
AM, LH: We feel that this is an amazing time to be creating new digital products to foster diversity. To the designers, writers and creators reading this – join us in starting small and changing the landscape, one resource, one reader at a time.
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