Reading for pleasure Representation

Why is representing rainbow families in children’s books so important?

It’s no secret that I’m passionate about the representation of rainbow families in children’s books. Indeed, a conversation with my son about the lack of positive representation (particularly in funny books) was my starting point for The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series which I’ve previously blogged about here.

In my opinion, the answer to this question is:

A. to give children with two mums or two dads the choice to read a book that reflects their reality


B. to help children from more traditional family units to broaden their understanding of the world.

But why?

According to the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s ‘Reflecting Realities’ report (2020), representation is the key to successful reading for pleasure (another of my passions).

When a child sees themselves in a book, they feel validated, their self-confidence sky-rockets as they realise they’re not alone. Moreover, they’re more likely to read for pleasure and, if this habit is sustained, they’ll have better life chances, get better grades and report higher levels of wellbeing (OECD). 

So given that in 2019 (according the ONS) there were 212,000 same sex families in the UK (and three years on, this figure will surely be greater), representing rainbow families is key to reading for pleasure for a large number of children.

That’s the ‘mirror’ element of reading.

But reading about people who are different to you, is of equal importance. This is where ‘windows’ come in.

To be able to read about life from another person’s perspective, helps children to make sense of the world around them. When a reader from a family with a mum and a dad reads a book that contains a rainbow family, they learn to empathise and accept. Essential conversations are sparked which can often lead to a deeper understanding of ‘different’ and a celebration of the many similarities that unite humans.

So, in summary, from picture books for babes in arms, right through to longer reads for older children, books have a huge role to play in helping youngsters to understand our world. Whether that’s to boost an individual’s self-esteem, to help nurture empathy for different, or just to cement the fact that all family units, whatever they look like, are valid, worth writing about, normal.

Can you recommend any great children’s books that contain positive representation of same sex parents?

Yes! BookTrust has some marvellous suggestions on these pages:

Middle Grade recommendations (age 7-11ish)

Younger readers

And here are a few recommendations from me:

My Daddies written by Gareth Peter, illustrated by Garry Parsons – a rhyming picture book adventure that includes a celebration of adoption and is perfect for introducing children to a family with two loving fathers.

Love Makes a Family written and illustrated by Sophie Beer – a board book depicting a wide range of families and what they may typically do on a daily basis.  I love this book’s main message: the one thing that makes every family is love.

The Pirate Mums written by Jodie Lancet Grant, illustrated by Lydia Corry  – an adventure picture book that helps children to embrace uniqueness – whether that’s because you have two mums, or that your parents are pirates!

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding written by Sarah Brannen, illustrated by Lucia Soto – an uplifting celebration of love in all its forms.  I vividly remember my nephew worrying I might not have time to play when I told him I was getting married!

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. (3 books) written and illustrated by me! – think Wimpy Kids meets Tom Gates, but with a witty female protagonist who, incidentally, has two mums and was adopted as a baby.

The Last Firefox written by Lee Newbery, illustrated by Laura Catalan – a fantasy tale about finding your own courage with lovely representation of an adoptive family with same-sex parents (two dads).

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It by Susie Day – an exploration of masculinity told via an exciting adventure and including a family headed up by two fathers.

Proud of Me by Sarah Hagger-Holt – a lovely coming of age story with multiple LGBT themes, told from the point of view of twelve year old siblings Josh and Becky who have two mums.

Engaging reluctant readers Reading for pleasure

Why do your books appeal to reluctant readers?

I’ve received many marvellous messages from parents, guardians and teachers thanking me for igniting a love of reading in their reluctant readers. Such correspondence delights me, because it was my own son’s MAHOOSIVE reluctance to read that inspired the format and content of The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series.

So, in brief, here are five reasons I think my books appeal to children usually disinclined to choose to read for pleasure:

  1. Early attention-grabbing content
  2. Short chapters easily finished in one sitting
  3. Dynamic content
  4. Laughter and jokes
  5. A relatable (and inspirational) protagonist

Allow me to expand…

  1. Early, attention-grabbing content

The first few pages of a book are important for all readers. For children disinclined to read for pleasure, grabbing and maintaining their interest in the initial pages is, perhaps, vital.

Will I read the rest of this book?

Where children who love to read might enjoy an atmospheric, descriptive build up, reluctant readers (my own son being a prime example of this) are inclined to abandon perfectly wonderful books if nothing has piqued their interest by page four.

Other people have commented on this aspect of my series:

“My 7-year-old is a hard sell… books have to grab him immediately. We could hear him laughing while he was in bed reading this. It’s a triumph. Thank you”


“I have an 8-year-old reluctant reader… hadn’t read anything willingly for well over a year… from page 1 I could see her interest piqued… Tonight when I finished reading to her, she took the book from me and read a couple of pages to herself whilst giggling at the content…It’s early days but you may just have got my lovely girl’s reading mojo back on track.”


2. Short chapters easily finished in one sitting

The feeling of accomplishment should not be under-estimated. I’ve never come across a child who wasn’t thrilled to have found a book they actually enjoyed reading. And a proudly announced, ‘I’ve finished A WHOLE CHAPTER!’ is a moment to be celebrated.

My daughter usually has to be bribed to read. The short chapters kept her going. She read this whole book without complaint and immediately asked me to order the sequel. Thank you.”


“Hasen has finished your book and absolutely LOVED it! Thank you so much for writing a book which has ignited a love for reading in some of my reluctant readers.”

KS2 Teacher

3. Dynamic content

For many so-called reluctant readers I have taught over the years, a full page of text was a real turn-off. Even if the story was gripping, even if I read the opening chapter to pique interest in a book I knew they could read and I thought they’d enjoy, some children (especially those who were also struggling readers) just felt too overwhelmed by dense paragraphs of words page after page, so gave up.

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series is purposefully packed with doodles, interactive pages and activity ideas – often viewed by reluctant readers as a nice little reading break despite the reading skills these parts of the story involve (Shhh)!

Lots of reading here!

“The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. is immense fun and is the first book I have read in a single sitting in a long time!”

Louie Stowell, author of many great books for children including The Dragon in the Library and Loki


Through funny speech bubbles, daft doodles, blatant jokes and the odd amusing hyperbole, The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series is intended to make children laugh. In my experience, the LOL-factor can be a magnet for many reluctant readers as books are often competing with games consoles/phones. Certainly, my son always had a better entertainment option unless it was bedtime. As a parent to three would-be screen-addicts, these recent tweet made me VERY happy:

“Awab is really enjoying his new book and was very proud of himself this morning. ‘Miss, I am already on page 111 and I didn’t even go on my PlayStation last night!’”

“Daughter got a copy for her birthday and hasn’t put it down since! Even choosing book over Nintendo she is loving it so much 😊

“Jen Carney writes family life with warmth, nuance and a phenomenal eye for detail. Plus, she knows how to make kids laugh . . . and I mean totally unreserved roll-on-the-floor belly laugh. Billie Upton Green is a firm favourite in our house.

Emma Mylrea, author of Curse of the Dearmad

5. A relatable (and inspirational) protagonist


Many reluctant readers, in my experience, enjoy reading about someone who’s a bit like them.

Billie Upton Green is a regular, present-day ten-year-old – no angel, but likeable. She lives with her family, she goes to school, she watches TV, she plays with her friends, she has disagreements, she visits relatives, she bemoans rules and obligations, she marvels at the extraordinary, and she’d much rather be doodling than writing. She’s not afraid to laugh at herself and the things she struggles with (namely spellings) and she’s very matter of fact about life. Writing about the everyday with no filter, and in a witty but easy to understand manner, she’s a character that proves to reluctant or struggling readers that everyone is smart in their own way.

“The character of Billie is wonderfully relatable, as well as likeable and funny. And Carney has done well to incorporate topical subjects, like diversity, same sex parent adoption and so on. This is life as youngsters know it today, and it’s great to see such issues treated with both humour and respect.”

Amazon reviewer

Class workshop feedback:

“I liked how she made spelling mistakes and drew things she couldn’t spell.”


“I’m going to invent my own biscuit laws later.”

The Cream-Filled Commandment

I dearly hope that one of my books might begin a reluctant readers’ ‘reading for pleasure’ journey because it was these kinds of books that turned my book-loathing son into someone who chose to read for pleasure. (Said son is now sixteen and reads a wide range of books, his current favourite genre being dystopian fantasy. So, to anyone currently struggling with a reluctant reader, my advice would be to pile them with books until they find their pleasure, then wait – they’ll branch out in their own time.)

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. and Basically Famous are available to buy now. They’re recommended for readers aged 7+ (note that plus – it’s very important, my son was eleven when he was reading books like this). If they hook your reader, the third in the series, Sister Act will be published on 3rd February 2022.

PS In addition to all of the reluctant reader hooks mentioned above, all the books in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series carry important underlying messages surrounding being proud of who you are, accepting differences and navigating friendships.

Reading for pleasure

Why do all primary schools need well-stocked and properly staffed libraries?

As both a primary school teacher and a mum, I’ve witnessed first-hand the positive impact reading for pleasure has on children’s well-being and achievement. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, to discover evidence in this report, produced today by the National Literacy Trust, that children who read for pleasure have better life chances, get better grades and report higher levels of wellbeing.

What I was shocked by, however, was the fact that in many areas of the UK, one in four primary schools don’t have a school library, and that two in five lack the budget to buy new books.

How do the children at these schools access books they can read for pleasure?

And I mean properly read for the sheer pleasure of getting lost in an adventure, being transported to another world, connecting with a character so much that they can’t wait to discover what happens next. Where do these children find books they can see themselves in? How do they experience the real magic of reading that is lacking from many prescribed reading schemes?

Having thought about this, I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  1. Their local public library

BUT not all neighbourhoods have a library. And, even if they do, not all parents/guardians choose to take advantage of these wonderful free resources staffed by knowledgeable professionals on hand to help. (I take one or more of my children to our local library weekly, but we’re often the only patrons there.)

  • Their parents/guardians buy them books

BUT not many families can afford to do this regularly, especially those living in the areas cited as not having a school library.

  • Their teachers buy new books with their own personal funds.

As wonderful as regularly forking out for books for your pupils is (I’ve been there), this is not a solution for the masses.

So I guess the question becomes, if a school doesn’t have a well-stocked library, curated by an educator who is afforded the time to keep abreast of new, diverse, inclusive, exciting books, where do children whose parents/guardians can’t/don’t take advantage of public libraries, and can’t afford to buy books, get the opportunity to experience the pleasure of reading?


In hope, the report published today will highlight to the government the long-term benefits of proper investment in primary school libraries so that ALL children have the opportunity to reap the benefits of reading for pleasure.

PS If you’re reading this and you work at a school in the Black Country, Newham, Barking, Dagenham, Thurrock, Basildon, Harlow, Braintree Stockton-on-Tees, Gateshead, Redcar, Cleveland, Swindon or Blackpool, do check out this offer from my publisher, Puffin, who are currently recruiting schools for their World of Stories programme which equips schools with resources to help champion reading for pleasure (including 500 free books, training for library co-ordinators and National Literacy Trust membership).