‘Normal’ Single Parent Families in Children’s Books – Where Are They?!

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Lynsey Pollard set up Little Box of Books when she couldn’t find her single parent family in books reflecting her family’s ‘normal’.

“In 2013 I became a single Mum to my eldest son who’s now 8. I am white, from the North-East. And had never not seen myself represented in media.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defines this as having white privilege.  Sure, my name was never on those pens you get at service stations because of an unusual spelling of Lynsey and my strong north-east accent assigned me to a particular ‘role’ whenever I met people, but on the whole, plasters matched my skin colour and there were plenty of people that looked like me presenting the news.

I remember story books from my childhood. Vividly, because I read voraciously. Being introduced to the library aged 8 was one of the most exciting experiences of my entire life. I remember finding out I could order any book that had been published and it would turn up.

Thanks to me, by 1992 that tiny village library in the very North of Northumberland had the most comprehensive Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High and Point Horror collections. I hope kids are still enjoying them now.

But I never thought about representation.

Fast forward to 2013 and I was a single Mum. I was so sure that children’s books would reflect the world I lived in that I went straight to Waterstones Piccadilly and asked for all the books that they had that showed single parents going about their business in the background of children’s stories.

They handed me a few books called things like ‘My Single Mum is BRILLIANT’ and ‘Single Mum Super Hero’, which looked great but were not what I wanted. And as I talked to the person in that shop, I crystallised what later become a founding ethos of my business, Little Box of Books.

I told the sales assistant that I didn’t want books that over celebrated our set up, I wanted books that normalised our family unit, so that when someone said ‘family’ to my son, it was clear that it was perfectly brilliant to be just us two. That ‘family’ could mean a foster family, two dads, grand parents looking after kids – all the families that were around us at the time.

The shop assistant apologised and said they didn’t index like that, so the only way to find out if a single parent family featured in a book would be to read all the books.

So that’s what I decided to do. And in doing so, realised that while society had moved on since the eighties when I was a kid, books hadn’t. People from marginalised groups with protected characteristics, while very present in day to day life, were not represented in children’s stories.

People difficult to find in children’s books back then and even now in 2022, include disabled people who aren’t in wheelchairs,  single parent families,  working mums, dads doing childcare, brown people, black people, Muslims, Jews, Hindus… the list goes on of course.

The media is powerful. I am convinced that watching James Bond, the A Team and all of those 80s and 90s TV shows gave me really damaging ideas about the role of women. I remember feeling really sad that I could never be a doctor because women were always nurses. I wasn’t explicitly told this but everything I watched, listened to and absorbed said it.

Which is why after I read all the books and created our shelves of inclusive kids’ books I knew that it was essential to share that knowledge. In 2018 when my eldest son was 4 and I was pregnant with my youngest, now in a blended family, still invisible in children’s books, I set up Little Box of Books. Our mission is to help more children and families to see themselves in stories and to show all kids that there is no such thing as normal.

Four years in, we have sold thousands of books to schools and families, and worked with Rochelle Humes to send 10,000 books to primary schools and nurseries all over the uk.

We’ve annoyed Laurence Fox who thinks I’m too woke and middle class (you can never be too woke and my mam would be so proud for me to be mistaken for someone significantly posher than I am). And we’ve worked with huge corporate partners like Lloyds of London, Avanti West Coast, Chelsea Football Club and KPMG to ensure children all over the UK have access to diverse bookshelves.

And that is our passion. We want all kids to see themselves in stories, we know that inclusive books are the foundation of a compassionate and cohesive society that can make the world a better and kinder place.

So we hope that you join us and help us in our mission.  Head over to the Little Box of Books website and find collections that will help you to diversify your bookshelves. You’ll find the collection of stories that feature single parents here.

We hope that after reading these stories your kids realise and recognise that you are a perfectly formed, complete family exactly as you are, worthy to be in brilliant stories.”

By Lynsey Pollard, Director of Little Box of Books

Enjoy reading Frolo single parents’ stories? You’ll find more here.