A painting of a military figure in historical uniform mounted on a black horse, surrounded by library shelves filled with books.

Representation of EDI in books on library shelves

SLS UKReading

Subject: Representation of EDI in classic school library books.

Focus: Societal representation and belonging 

Age Group: UK KS2-3

Synopsis: Authors and books who have shared stories and characters with us which make visible EDI in our society, through the ages.

Abstract geometric shapes and patterns in various shades of yellow and orange with the letters "uk" in the top right corner, forming a representation on library shelves.

Sharon Walsh
Westminster SLS

Librarian’s view:

Children see possibilities for their lives when they see themselves in books.  Books in classroom collections and school libraries have an important part to play in this. 

Three individuals in traditional musketeer attire, representing characters from Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers," walking side by side down an old city street lined with library shelves filled with books
Cover design of 'the secret garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett featuring botanical illustrations on a dark background, embodying representation of EDI.
Illustration of a young girl on a swing surrounded by a floral border, depicting EDI representation, for the book cover of "What Katy Did" by Susan Coolidge.
Illustrated book cover for 'Heidi' featuring a young girl in a mountain meadow with a goat, with an alpine landscape in the background, ensuring representation on library shelves.

‘Overlooked Classics’ which represent EDI in the primary school library or in classroom collections
During the last twenty years I have selected many books for pupils to read. Whether the book is chosen for a short-term loan or to add to permanent book collection in a classroom or library, we at times can forget that some of these ‘classics’ represent people who are themselves overlooked in society, as represented by authors, main characters, or subject matter.
Heritage/ethnicity, long-term illness, acquired disability and less typical family set-ups are some of the experiences represented in the following books.
One book we at Westminster SLS have made available to schools is The Three Musketeers, written by Alexandre Dumas. Dumas’ grandmother was a formerly enslaved woman from present day Haiti who married a French marquis. Their son fought in Napolean’s army and rose to the rank of general, the highest rank a Black person had, to that point, acceded. His son became the famous author we know today as Alexandre Dumas.
The Three Musketeers chronicles the experiences of friends and comrades enjoying many adventures. They are unafraid to take risks in the pursuit of justice. One can only surmise how the author’s personal experiences informed his writing in response to injustices.
The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is an enduring classic which might not immediately recommend itself as an example of inclusivity.  Mary, a child of the former British Raj in India, is sent to live with wealthy relations in Yorkshire, England.  She soon encounters a cousin, Colin.
Both children are products of emotionally disconnected family upbringings.  They benefit from developing relationships with servants and boy gardener, Dickon, whose appreciation of nature enhances all their young lives. Colin uses a wheelchair, following an illness, and during the course of the novel finds he can manage without it. Optimism, hope and joy are the rewards for the children who embrace their true emotional selves.

What Katy Did, written by Susan Coolidge, is another childhood favourite.  Set in Ohio, United States of America, it features Katy, a spirited 12 year-old girl, who does not conform to the role set out for her by society. She is a fun-loving tomboy. A fall from a swing results in illness which is followed by the necessity of using a wheelchair to get about. 

The morality of Katy learning to be a ‘good’ person in the face of pain and disability has always rankled with me.  She too walks again after embracing a healthy mindset. Positive thinking seems to not be the new phenomenon that is sometimes suggested!

Heidi, written by Johanna Spyri, is set in Switzerland, and features an orphaned 5 year-old girl who is raised, albeit unwillingly, by her embittered grandfather. Missing is the nuclear family, the tidy world of mother, father and siblings. In its place is a tale of friendship, love and endurance and how an unwelcome turn of events can be transcendent and how the unexpected can become normality.
In these stories children suffer. But the just can, in time, triumph over circumstances. And we, the readers can come to a better understanding of life and relationships, their complexity and the part they play in lived human experience.

Resources HighlightedThe Three Musketeers, written by Alexandre Dumas

The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What Katy Did, written by Susan Coolidge

Heidi, written by Johanna Spyri