REPRESENTATION World Day for Cultural Diversity & Book Awards


World Day for Cultural Diversity falls on May 21 annually. It is a day of observance sanctioned by the United Nations to promote diversity and intercultural dialogue. Eva Wong Nava, Representation Features Editor of Words & Pictures takes a look at this day and book awards that support cultural diversity and representation.


Our world is a richly diverse and multi-cultural one but sadly, according to UNESCO statistics, “three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension.” (source) Hence, there is an urgent need to keep on dialoguing about the importance of cultural diversity and how to make living with diversity beneficial and sustainable for all.


Diversity, Inclusion and Equality (DIE) initiatives, workshops and training have become more crucial than ever. Corporates and organisations have begun to see the value of having a diverse team of employees as companies benefit from diversity of thought informed by their employees’ cultural backgrounds and education. Organisations that recruit multilingual workers create an inclusive environment that contribute to customer satisfaction and loyalty. Corporates that train their staff in cultural awareness and understanding develop a conducive and more tolerant work space that can only benefit their employees and share holders.


In December 2002, UNESCO declared to recognise May 21 as the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, aka World Day for Cultural Diversity. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO said, "On this Day, UNESCO would like to call upon everyone to celebrate cultural diversity, through which we will be able to build the intellectual and moral solidarity of humankind.” (source)


The Arts (for example, literature, theatre and music) are one very accessible way to develop understanding of cultural diversity. As creatives in the children’s book industry, we know that children’s books are a great resource to open up conversations amongst young readers and foster cultural awareness and appreciation. As UNESCO aims to make cultural diversity more sustainable because this leads to poverty reduction, respect and mutual understanding, book awards, I feel, are an inclusive way to help authors and illustrators gain recognition for their outstanding work. Not all awards come with monetary rewards but those that do, make it sustainable for authors and illustrators to continue putting work out there, and in this way making what we do more sustainable.


Waterstones Children’s Book Prize


This is a well-known and prestigious annual prize that was first awarded in 2005 by the book retailer, Waterstones. The purpose of this prize is to “uncover hidden talent in children’s writing” (source) In recent years, the longlists and shortlists have been getting more diverse, reflecting the changing landscape in UK children’s publishing. These authors have now become household names, like Kiran Millwood Hargreave for younder readers, Manjeet Mann for older readers, and Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola for illustrated books, to name a few authors who are categorised as underrepresented in this industry.


Nadia Mikail, winner of Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2023

The 2023 shortlist was, by far, the most diverse since the prize began. The winner of the 2023 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize is debut author, Nadia Mikail, who hails from Malaysia but is based in London. The Cats We Meet Along the Way was a refreshing and relatable read and it made me miss Malaysia, where half my family-of-origin is based and one of the two countries of my childhood.


That Nadia Mikhail’s book won the prize, a book that is set in Malaysia, peppered with Malay words, is a clear indication to me as an underrepresented author that this book prize is helping to make it more sustainable for authors-of-colour to be recognised and to earn a supplementary income from publishing.


The Branford Boase Award


This book award was set up in 2000 in the names and memories of award-winning children’s book author, Henrietta Branford and children’s editor Wendy Boase, who was the Editorial Director at Walker Books, to recognise, celebrate and encourage new writing talent in children’s publishing. The prize was the brainchild of Julia Eccleshare MBE, the director of the Hay Festival children’s programme, and Anne Marley MBE, Head of Children’s, Youth & Schools Services for Hampshire Library & Information Service and founder of Authors Aloud UK, an author engagement agency.


I love this prize for the fact that it recognises the editors alongside the authors, whose books are for 7+ readers. I also love the prize for its commitment to recognise underrepresented authors, like Maisie Chan of Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths. Chan and her editor, Georgia Murray, from Piccadilly Press (Bonnier Books) won the Branford Boase Award in 2022.


Maisie and Georgia with their prizes

The 2023 shortlist is also looking very diverse with Ann Sei Lin and her editor, Gráinne Clear (Rebel Sky), Nadia Mikail and her editor Bella Pearson (The Cats We Meet Along the Way), author Christine Pillainayagam and Leah Thaxton (Ellie Pillai is Brown), author and editor pair J P Rose & Chloe Sackur (The Haunting of Tyrese Walker). All these are exciting titles and the winner will be announced soon, and I can’t wait.


Jhalak Prize, Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour


This prize honours and recognises literary works by British or British-resident BAME writers of children’s and adult books. The prize is a cash award of £1,000 and is given annually. It was created in 2016 by writer and academic, Sunny Singh, author Nikesh Shukla, and Media Diversified, a UK-based nonprofit media and advocacy organisation for writers and journalists of colour. The Authors’ Club and an anonymous donor are supporters of the Jhalak. The prize is the second literary prize in the UK to only accept entries by writers of colour. In 2017, Tory MP Philip Davies complained that the prize “was unfair to whites” as it “discriminated against white writers”. His claims were eventually dismissed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whose spokesperson said that “after investigating, we were satisfied that the prize did not breach equality law.” (source)


This year's children's and YA shortlist includes SCBWI members, author-illustrator Lucy Farfort and Rashmi Sirdeshpande for their picture books In Our Hands (Tate, 2022) and Dadaji’s Paintbrush, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane (Andersen Press, 2022), respectively. The shortlist also includes:


  • Mia And The Lightcasters, Janelle McCurdy, ill. Ana Latese (Faber)
  • Ellie Pillai Is Brown, Christine Pillainayagam (Faber) 
  • Rebel Skies, Ann Sei Lin (Walker)


The Jhalak Prize is an important prize and much loved by writers of colour in the U.K. as it is a reflection and representation of the skill and craft amongst BAME authors.


To me, the Jhalak Prize ticks all the four goals for UNESCO’s World Day for Cultural Diversity, which are:


  • Support sustainable systems of governance for culture; 
  • Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase mobility of artists and cultural professionals; 
  • Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks;
  • Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Eva Wong Nava is an underrepresented children’ s author writing and living in the UK. She is represented by Lydia Silver of Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency, an agency dedicated to nurturing and developing the talent and careers of authors from underrepresented backgrounds, amongst others. Eva is an advocate for more diversity and representation in children’s literature and works with illustrators of colour to promote cultural diversity through picture books. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @evawongnava. Email her: w&

* Header image Shannon Ell & Tita Berredo


Shannon Ell is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Find their work at Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Contact them at


Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL, and a background in marketing and publicity.   

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter

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