Why a child expert warns that classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar is ‘outdated’ and ‘harmful’ to Australian children
- Very hungry caterpillar may be ‘harmful’ to children, researcher says
- Dr. Helen Adam has pointed out children’s books that she says aren’t diverse enough
- She looked at books at eight daycares and found most weren’t inclusive
- Dr. Adam recommends educators incorporate new, more diverse books
The classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar could be “detrimental” to children’s reading, according to a new study by a senior childhood researcher.
Dr Helen Adam of the Edith Cowan University School of Education pointed to a series of classic children’s books which she says “perpetuate outdated stereotypes” and are not diverse enough.
Some of the books Dr. Adam highlights in his research include older classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harry the Dirty Dog, and Hairy Maclary.
Classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar could be ‘detrimental’ to children’s reading, says lead researcher
Dr Helen Adam (pictured) from the Edith Cowan University School of Education pointed to a series of classic children’s books which she says ‘perpetuate outdated stereotypes’ and are not diverse enough
For his research, Dr. Adam and his team looked at eight long-term childcare centers – four in Western Australia and four in the US – and found that 90% of books read to children were not inclusive.
The researchers looked at the stories and characters in the books and broke them down into stereotypical, gender-restrictive, gender-sensitive, or gender-neutral.
Many books were “older” and first published in the 1950s or 1960s, which Dr. Adam says reflects “outdated views and lifestyles” and conveys rigid gender stereotypes.
“This research shows plain and simple that there is a lack of representation of boys and girls in non-traditional gender roles in these books,” she explained.
Dr Adam said the books did not feature gender or ethnically diverse characters and were generally told from a “white, male perspective”.
“This can contribute to children from these families and backgrounds feeling excluded or marginalized,” the lead researcher said.
Dr. Adam said the books she pointed out were not the problem, rather educators and parents often relied on these books rather than new books with diverse stories and characters.
“The majority of books shared by educators in this study promoted traditional, binary, and stereotypical views of gender and gender roles,” she writes in her study.
She added that many parents will choose to read books to their children that they loved to read as children, which contributes to “outdated views on masculinity and femininity as well as gender roles”. .
For his research, Dr. Adam observed eight child care centers in Australia and the United States and found that 90% of books read to children were not inclusive.
Some of the books Dr Adam highlights in his research include older classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Harry the Dirty Dog (pictured)
Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd was another book flagged by Dr Adam for “outdated views and lifestyles”
Many of the books from these centers were “older” and first published in the 1950s or 1960s, which Dr. Adam says reflects “outdated views” and conveys rigid gender stereotypes.
Dr. Adam said she is delighted that many new books now have diverse stories and characters, which she says should be incorporated into children’s reading.
But even with the availability of inclusive content, Dr. Adam found that much still featured traditional gender roles.
“Although the books are becoming more and more diverse with an increased balance between the main female and male characters, many of the roles played by these characters still only reflect traditional gender roles and expectations,” she said. .
“This makes it difficult for adults to choose stimulating books to share with children.”
In the study, educators were recommended to use texts to help children understand stereotypes, how they are conveyed in children’s books, and to teach children that these stereotypes were not “representative of all situation”.
Classic children’s books “harmful” to children
Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd
Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughan
We’re Going Bear Hunting by Michael Rosen
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
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