Study: Depictions of Nature in Children’s Books Down By Half Since 1960

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When you settled into bed at night as a child, can you remember what your parents read to you? What were your favorite children’s books and did you pass those vintage classics onto your kids? Where the Wild Things Are By Maurice Sendak and Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne were certainly among my favorites. Creatures, animals, and humans seemed to live in a world where any separation could be lifted through a child's imagination.

But a new study published in the journal Sociological Inquiry is showing that children are becoming increasingly isolated from nature, which is evident from its depiction in children's books. An analysis of the 296 Caldecott Medal Award Winners from 1938-2008, found that overtime depictions of nature show up half as much as depictions of manmade environments. This listing of esteemed children's classics show that before 1960 depictions of the natural world and depictions of the manmade world were about equal.

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An Up Close Look at the Caldecott Winners

Here's a listing of some of the esteemed children's books from 1938-1960:

1938: Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book , illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop; text: selected by Helen Dean Fish

1942: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

1944: Many Moons , illustrated by Louis Slobodkin; text: James Thurber

1946: The Rooster Crows by Maud & Miska Petersham

1947: The Little Island , illustrated by Leonard Weisgard; text: Golden MacDonald, pseud. [Margaret Wise Brown]

1948: White Snow, Bright Snow , illustrated by Roger Duvoisin; text: Alvin Tresselt

1949: The Big Snow by Berta & Elmer Hader

1950: Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi

1951: The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous

Caldecott Winners After 1960

After 1960 the number of books about animals, playing outside, and nature seems to diminish as seen below:

1960: Nine Days to Christmas , illustrated by Marie Hall Ets; text: Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida

1969: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship , illustrated by Uri Shulevitz; text: retold by Arthur Ransome

1986: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

1993: Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

1996: Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

2000: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

2001: So You Want to Be President? Illustrated by David Small; text by Judith St. George

2004: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

Children Increasingly Isolated From Nature

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After 1960, the emphasis seems to move from the natural world surrounding us, to it being a much smaller part of a child's perspective. While a newer genre, environmentalism in children's books, has sprung up, mainstream illustrations of the natural world are less and less available to our kids. It shows a separation and a lack of understanding of the planet.

“These findings suggest that today’s generation of children are not being socialized, at least through this source, toward an understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the place of humans within it,” the authors wrote, reported on Yake Environment 360.

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Tags: Books | Education

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