Gender Representation in a Selection of Children’s Picture Books: A Skewed Ratio of Male to Female Characters?

Heather MacArthur, Carmen Poulin*, University of Brunswick

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Abstract The present research investigates the ratio of male to female characters in a selection of 92 children’s picture books chosen at random from the local library of a small Atlantic Canadian city. Results indicate that, consistent with past findings, male characters are depicted more often than female characters in the titles, cover illustrations, main characters, and page illustrations of the sample. When the results are broken down, however, it is apparent that human male and human female characters are depicted relatively equally, while male animals are represented significantly more often than female animals. Reasons for these findings and the implications for young readers are discussed. 

Introduction When considering the purpose, role, and importance of children’s literature in early childhood development, the solidification of ideas about gender and the relative visibility (or invisibility) of males and females is likely not the first thought to spring to mind. Indeed, picture books are often thought of as being politically neutral; they are assumed to be healthy and essential tools that benefit children by improving reading levels and providing mental stimulation that will lay the groundwork for future learning and education. Although there is little question that these advantages of early reading do exist (e.g., Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001), it is important that another function of these books also be acknowledged: they provide information to young readers about social norms and values (Arbuthnot, 1984; Weitzman, Eifler, Hokada, & Ross, 1972). As pointed out by Weitzman et al. (1972), children’s literature can facilitate the internalization of ideas regarding self and others, social roles, and the surrounding environment.

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