Picture an illustrated children’s book — one that has won a prestigious award — and your mind conjures up images of furry animals, puffy clouds, and eager boys and girls enjoying adventures in the wild.
In fact, our kids are entering a much different world in their earliest literary experiences — one in which nature plays an increasingly minor role. That’s the conclusion of a newly published study, which suggests these books reflect our growing estrangement from the natural environment.
A group of researchers led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist J. Allen Williams Jr. studied the winners of the American Library Association’s prestigious Caldecott Medal between 1938 (the year the prize was first awarded) through 2008. They looked at more than 8,000 images in the 296 volumes.
They noted whether each image depicted a natural environment (such as a forest), a built environment (such as a house), or a modified environment (such as a cornfield or manicured lawn). In addition, they observed whether the illustrations contained any animals, and if so, rated them as either domestic, wild or anthropomorphized (that is, taking on human qualities).
The results, published in the journal Sociological Inquiry, are sobering. “There have been significant declines in depictions of natural environments and animals, while built environments have become much more common,” the researchers report.
Specifically, they find images of built and natural environments were “almost equally likely to be present” in books published from the late 1930s through the 1960s. But…
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