May 4, 2022
Free children’s book celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee criticised as too ‘Anglocentric’ by Welsh and Scottish governments
by Nikki Griffiths
Last October, we wrote about the UK government’s plan to create a new children’s book in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, which would be given away free to primary schools.
Originally planned to be available in schools within the next few weeks, ahead of the Jubilee weekend happening from Thursday 2 to Sunday 5 June 2022, book distribution has hit a snag. Scottish and Welsh governments don’t approve of it.
Queen Elizabeth: A Platinum Jubilee Celebration has been written in collaboration with historians and royal experts, and the contract to produce the book (reportedly worth £12 million) was awarded to London-based publisher DK books. The book follows young Isabella, whose Great Granny Joyce tells her stories about the Queen and this year’s Jubilee. According to the official government press release:
“These include recent and historical events across the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, inspirational people, landmark innovations and inventions, and a selection of the best art, design, and culture.
“The book will also include famous quotes from the Queen, facts on the coronation ceremony, content on the lives of famous Commonwealth figures such as Nelson Mandela, notable kings and queens and a timeline of Queen Elizabeth’s life.”
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:
“Queen Elizabeth II is the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee, and Her Majesty’s dignity, commitment and grace continues to inspire people all over the world.
“I hope all our pupils are as excited as I am to read about Her Majesty’s amazing life and the people and events that have shaped history during the last 70 years.”
The press release also emphasised that the book will help children understand how the four nations came together as one United Kingdom. However, both the Welsh and Scottish governments, who saw early pages of the book, agreed that it was too Anglocentric, failing to reflect the history of the devolved countries of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said to The National:
“The Department for Education in England is producing the Platinum Jubilee book, which we understand the DfE plan to issue in September. The Welsh Government has no role in the production or distribution of the book.
“Education is a devolved matter. We have been clear that the book should be available in Welsh and English and schools only receive the book on an opt-in basis.”
🔴 Will the Government's £12 Million Jubilee Book Be Another Exercise in Airbrushing British History?
A commemorative children's book marking the Queen's platinum jubilee year is likely to be an exercise in selective remembering, says @WritesBright https://t.co/wfgvVp8b8X
— Byline Times (@BylineTimes) February 7, 2022
Sam Bright of the Byline Times wrote a scathing takedown of book calling it an exercise in airbrushing British history. He said:
“The past 70 years of British history have included the gaining of independence by colonies, spells of mass unemployment, industrial strife, war and inequality. It seems likely that the commemorative book will pave over these imperfections – depicting an idealised nation and fuelling the perception that Britain has done no wrong.”
He also went on to comment on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s troubled relationship with the Queen. Johnson effectively lied to Her Majesty to unlawfully prorogue parliament back in 2019, and also had to apologise to her for two purported illegal gatherings that reportedly took place on 16 April 2021 – the night before the Queen was forced to sit alone, due to COVID restrictions, at the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip. Maddening facts… but let’s face it, they were never going to make it into a celebratory book.
The plan had been to produce 211,000 bilingual copies of the book to be distributed to 3,000 schools in Wales, and for 387,000 English copies to go to 1897 schools in Scotland, along with 7200 books in Gaelic to go to 108 schools. Now, on the request of the Scottish and Welsh Governments, schools in Scotland and Wales will not automatically receive copies but will have to opt-in if they want to receive any.
The book will also be available for the public to buy from 23 June.
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.