The Success of Knights Of – The BAME Bookshop

In 2017, the Arts Council England and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) funded a research project which asked UK publishers to submit books featuring BAME characters. The report published the following year in July 2018 found that out of the ‘9,115 children’s books published last year (2017), researchers found that only 391 – 4% - featured BAME (Black, Asian & Ethnic Minority) characters.’ [1] Furthermore, ‘only 1% had a BAME main character, and a quarter of the books submitted only featured diversity in their background casts, this compares to the 32.1% of schoolchildren of minority ethnic origins in England identified by the Department of Education last year.’ [2]

Co-founders of Knights Of, David Stevens and Aimée Felone outside their pop-up bookshop in 2018. [The Guardian/Sarah Lee]

Co-founders of Knights Of, David Stevens and Aimée Felone outside their pop-up bookshop in 2018. [The Guardian/Sarah Lee]

Knights Of, the independent publisher founded by Aimée Felone and David Stevens, states their mission is to diversify the UK children’s publishing market by promoting and creating content exclusively made by BAME authors. Felone and Stevens, who both previously worked at Scholastic, left to publish books that opened the windows into as many worlds as possible. [3] The results of the CLPE reported encouraged Felone and Stevens to create a pop-up bookshop in Brixton, South London, again only selling diverse books. They called this mission #ReadTheOnePercent (after the CLPE’s report findings) and was open until the 23rd December 2018. The bookshop sold over 500 books in five days, proving that their mission is commercially viable. Additionally, the duo reached their £30,000 crowdfunding target to hire a bookseller to run a permanent shop in Brixton as of the 8th January 2019. Their permanent bookshop called Round Table Books opened their doors in May, giving children the chance to read not only books with BAME protagonists but also including books featuring disabled, neurodiverse and LGBT characters. [4]

In 2018, co-founder Aimee Felone said: “We’ve had a lot of kids coming in saying, ‘Mum this is me, this is me!’ Every one of those moments was affirmation of why we’re doing this. Inclusion matters,” [5]

Round Table Books, the bookshop project by Knights Of. [BBC News/2019]

Round Table Books, the bookshop project by Knights Of. [BBC News/2019]

It is essential for the publishing industry to promote diversity for children to see all people in a positive light and to feel seen in the world they live in.

In Reni Eddo-Lodge’s debut book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017), she said something that resonated with me:[6]

When I was four, I asked my mum when I would turn white, because all of the good people on TV were white, and all of the villains were black and brown. I considered myself to be a good person.
— Reni Eddo-Lodge in Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race

And the same is for books, with only 1% of BAME characters being protagonists, a large amount of our schoolchildren aren’t seeing themselves represented and if they are relegated to the background. It is stories like this that we should not be hearing, but unfortunately is our reality.

I remember being in primary school and falling in love with all sorts of characters from Hermione Granger to Molly Aster (from Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) but it was rare for me to find protagonists that look like me in novels. It was not until I read Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman when I was 12-years-old when I fully realised that I hadn’t read about the journey of a young black girl, that my coming-of-age story was not exciting enough to take a lead role or simply did not exist. I truly felt seen, I saw me. What a bookshop like this would’ve had meant to me growing up, and frankly still today is indescribable.

So here is a thank you to Aimée Felone and David Stevens for taking the initiative to start Knights Of and be a part of giving children a chance to be seen and heard and we can only hope that more people within the publishing industry follow their in life-changing footsteps.

by Daniella Ferguson-Djaba


[1], [2], [3] & [5] Alison Flood, ‘Only 1% of children’s books have BAME main characters – UK study’, The Guardian, 17 July 2018

[4] BBC News, ‘BAME: The children's bookshop selling diversity’, 11 May 2019

[6] Eddo-Lodge, Reni, Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017).

FalWriting Team