Publisher: Aimée Felone
As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we invited independent publishers to respond to equity and inclusion in the publishing industry – how their own work engages with it, as well as the change they believe is most essential. Here, children’s publishing director Aimée Felone reflects on her work at Knights Of .
‘Inclusion’, ‘diversity’, ‘representation’, and ‘under-represented’ are all words we’ve come to know, speak, and discuss with renewed energy and fervour these past five years within children’s publishing. For most of us though, we are late to the conversation. Many have come before us and tirelessly published against the white, middle-class standard that has dominated the charts. They’ve done what we’re seeking to do: drive a permanent shift from what is considered the ‘norm’.
Knights Of is only four years old, and in that short space of time we’ve managed to publish inclusive commercial children’s books that have gone on to win just about every UK award. Titles from authors and illustrators that come from a wide range of backgrounds, that focus their stories not on their so-called differences but instead on story and character.
We’re often asked ‘how’ we’ve managed to have so many wins and the truth is our success is down to many factors, timing being one of them. One of the main things, however, is our key idea and ethos, something we have operated by from the very beginning, and that has helped shape all our decisions and caused many of our wins: diversity is not a trend. It sounds simple enough, but, when you keep it at the front of your mind for every decision, it ripples out to have much bigger effects.
We at Knights Of are trying to close the gap between what we think the kids want and what they’re actually saying.
The market often gets caught up in what’s trendy – it turns to TV, film and even social media to tell it what the kids are loving, but it very rarely focuses on what its primary consumer is saying. We at Knights Of are trying to close the gap between what we think the kids want and what they’re actually saying. It’s why you’ll rarely see us publishing trauma-based stories or see our diverse characters explaining why they need to belong.
It’s why our commitment to inclusive publishing considers not just what we put on the shelves but also who is behind the books. Our team is mainly made up of women of colour, revolutionary when you look at many of the departments that make up the teams of other houses. It’s not a performative act or a tick box exercise, and it all feeds back to our diversity is not a trend ethos. The voices around our table must come from as vast a background as possible, because so do our readers.
Knights Of don’t claim to have all the answers, nor are we the singular solution to making children’s books a more inclusive space. Our hope is that we are part of the mosaic of independent publishers that have come before us and will come after us to better serve our readers… after all, it’s all about the kids.