Children have been enjoying stories set in forests and jungles since Little Red Riding Hood, but these kinds of natural environments are disappearing from kids' picture books today as more are set inside homes and other built environments, a new study shows.
Researchers at several universities reviewed about 8,100 images in 296 children's books. The books were all Caldecott Medal winners and honorees from 1938 to 2008. The Caldecott awards are given annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Researchers categorized images as containing either a natural environment, such as a jungle or forest; a built environment, such as a house, school or office; or a modified environment, such as a mowed lawn, park or farm field. They also identified wild and domestic animals. Findings published in February's Sociological Inquiry:
•Early in the study period, built environments were the primary environments in about 35% of images. By the end of the study, they were primary environments about 55% of the time.
•Early in the study, natural environments were the primary environments about 40% of the time; by the end, roughly 25%.
Images of wild animals and domestic animals declined dramatically over time, says lead author Al Williams of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "The natural environment and wild animals have all but disappeared in these books."
Co-author Chris Podeschi of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania says, "This is just one sample of children's books, but it suggests there may be a…
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