Lack of di­ver­sity seen as road to nar­cis­sism

Book­shop owner en­deav­ors to broaden chil­dren’s hori­zons

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COVER STORY - By YANG YANG yangyangs@chi­

Tamara Macfar­lane, a teacher, founded Tales on Moon Lane Chil­dren’s Book­shop in Half Moon Lane, Lon­don, in 2003. When she chose the name she con­nected book­store with moon be­cause both in­spire dreams and free imag­i­na­tion, she says. In­stead of en­cour­ag­ing chil­dren to grow to love books, most Bri­tish teach­ers force them to read, Macfar­lane says. Read­ing should be a love that be­gins when one is young and con­tinue for a life­time, she says.

Al­though about 14 per­cent of Bri­tain’s pop­u­la­tion is black or Asian Bri­tish, fewer than 2 per­cent of those who work for the coun­try’s pub­lish­ing in­dus­try are black of Asian Bri­tish, she says.

Lon­don’s pop­u­la­tion makes the city vi­brant and di­verse, says Macfar­lane, who then ci­ties the Nige­rian writer Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie: “The sin­gle story cre­ates stereo­types, and the prob­lem with stereo­types is not that they are un­true but that they are in­com­plete. They make one story be­come the only story.”

Com­pared with adults’ books, the ide­ol­ogy in the world of chil­dren’s books is very nar­row be­cause of lim­ited sets of val­ues and cul­tural ref­er­ences, Macfar­lane says, and that is not con­ducive to the growth and em­pa­thy that chil­dren need to be­come de­cent cit­i­zens.

Macfar­lane says that she and those who run Moon Lane Chil­dren’s Book­shop with her feel the lack of di­ver­sity in Lon­don’s pub­lish­ing in­dus­try and a sin­gu­lar dom­i­nant voice lead to lim­ited un­der­stand­ing, em­pa­thy, in­te­gra­tion and so­cial mo­bil­ity.

“We be­lieve that read­ing de­vel­ops un­der­stand­ing and em­pa­thy, but read­ing about dif­fer­ent lives, val­ues and views of points. So in Lon­don, con­stantly the pub­lish­ing world said read­ing de­vel­ops em­pa­thy, but if you read only your own thoughts and ideas, it ac­tu­ally de­vel­ops nar­cis­sism, not em­pa­thy.

“In or­der to de­velop em­pa­thy, we need to read about (the) other.”

For 14 years her shop has tried to build a bridge be­tween pub­lish­ers and read­ers, she says. By learn­ing about dif­fer­ent peo­ple’s needs ac­cord­ing to their in­come, fam­ily back­ground and gen­ders, the book­store tries to of­fer prod­ucts and ser­vices — books and events — that meet read­ers’ di­verse needs and pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for pub­lish­ers to learn about read­ers.

For in­stance, as a woman who runs a book­shop Macfar­lane tries to give chil­dren dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives about gen­ders.

“When I grew up I read much stronger fe­male pro­tag­o­nists than we have now,” she says.

But now “we re­ally lack fe­male su­per he­roes”.

Now she and her col­leagues are work­ing on in­tro­duc­ing a fe­male su­per hero, which is also a response to a cus­tomer de­mand for fe­male su­per he­roes who are ad­ven­tur­ous and suc­cess­ful.


The ex­te­rior of Tales on Moon Lane Chil­dren’s Book­shop in Lon­don.

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