By Shaniah Shields, Jia Wen Ho, Jane Link and Leanne Francis
If you have yet to hear of the inspiring commercial children’s publisher for readers aged 5–15 making unprecedented strides towards diversifying children’s books, today’s your lucky day. Knights Of derive their name from the round table in Arthurian legend which offers everyone a seat at the table and an equal voice.
Started by Aimee Felone (previously Assistant Editor at Scholastic) and David Stevens, Knights Of aim to champion diverse publishing. For them, it is not simply about pushing non-white authors through a largely white publishing industry, but “creating a better pipeline,” squeezing as many perspectives, from the writers’ and illustrators’, to the agents’ and retailers’, into the making of each book.
The London based publishers have, since being founded in 2017, established a permanent bookshop in Brixton called Round Table Books. They are also responsible for the hashtag #BooksMadeBetter, which offers a safe social space for sharing information about diversifying children’s publishing. This month, Knights Of announced that Aimee Felone is taking on the newly created role of Managing Director, while co-founder Stevens is becoming an Associate Director.
The Jericho Prize
Knights Of have recently become sponsors for the inaugural Jericho Prize for Children’s Writing, a prize launched by children’s book blogger Fabia Turner. This comes as recent reports have highlighted a continual lack of representation in children’s books.
According to reading charity BookTrust and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), in the last three years, only 7% of the children’s books published in the UK featured characters of colour. We live in a world where every child deserves to see themselves reflected in the books they read, and the Jericho Prize is listening to the strong call for inclusivity that has been silenced for so long.
The Jericho Prize aims to showcase the work of unpublished or self-published Black British Children’s Writers. The Prize will be supported using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, as well as with support from Knight’s Of, Penguin Random House Children’s, Storymix and the Youth Libraries Group.
There are two categories, with the winners each receiving £500, as well as an editorial consult with Anna McQuinn from Alanna Max, or Carla Hutchinson from Piccadilly Press and Hot Key Books. Submissions are open from 2 August to 2 September. Click here for more information on how you can enter!
Knights Of have seen great successes, with many of their books receiving 5-star ratings and New York Times bestseller-listings. Rated ‘Book of the Year’ by The Guardian, Evening Standard, and The Irish Times, Gabrielle Kent’s incredibly popular book series Knights and Bikes is now an award-winning video game. Suitable for those over seven, the heart-warming, daring friendship between Nessa and Demelza will be a fun read for many.
Run, the New York Times bestselling book series by Jason Reynolds, tells the story of four unique kids from wildly different backgrounds who are chosen for an elite school running team. Suitable for those aged ten or over, Run tackles issues such as parental expectations, independence and learning to work together despite one another’s differences. Reynolds’ engaging and inspiring collection is a must-read.
Kelly Yang’s bestselling debut novel, Front Desk, suitable for teenagers, is a brilliant and bold new narrative. Front Desk tells the story of Mia Tang, a hard-working, courageous young girl who manages the front desk of a motel whilst her parents help immigrants who stay there.
All of these books are available to purchase via the Round Table Books website.
Round Table Books
Round Table Books started when Knights Of ran a week-long pop-up store called #ReadTheOnePercent to mark their first year. It was in response to the outrageous results of a report that only 1% of children’s books published in 2017 featured a BAME protagonist. The pop-up bookshop received overwhelmingly positive responses, as customers from all over London came to visit and 500 books sold within five days. There were also passionate and emotional reactions to seeing shelves of diverse books from those who became tearful, having “never seen anything quite like it” to kids exclaiming “this is me!” With the strong support from the public via crowdfunding, Knights Of opened Round Table Books as a permanent bookshop in London, Brixton.
Round Table Books stocks a wide array of diverse books for school children to young adults. They also have some poetry collections and books for grownups. Currently, because of the pandemic, the physical bookshop is closed, but orders are available from their beautiful and easily accessible website. They have helpfully provided some book recommendations. Once re-opened, if accessible to you, do make a trip there and buy some books!