Children’s books are undeniably important to the
development of a young mind. From infancy to adolescence, these books help to
craft not only imaginations, but also aim to educate and inform the way
children think and see things.
Children’s stories are known to end with some sort of
moral; a lesson learned, the main objective of the story is to put across one
solid point that is to be taken away and applied to real life situations – this
may then be carried with a child through their whole life and applied to
multiple different situations, the things we learned in our developmental
stages staying and growing with us.
However, there are many other, smaller, sub-textual things in a story or
illustration that a child can pick up on and carry with them through their lives.
“Everything we read constructs us, makes us who we are,
by presenting an image of ourselves, as girls and women, as boys and men” – Mem
Something so appealing about children’s books is the
illustration, whether it’s illustrated throughout, or just the cover- the
bright visuals are used to engage the young reader, making the story more
The illustration in children’s book, more often than not is very character-based.
The front covers will typically have the main character on them- usually a
child themselves, reflecting the audience that the book is aimed at, it may
also be the case that the character presents as the gender demographic that the
book is aimed at.
In children’s books there is also a large amount of anthropomorphic
characters, these books seem to be less gender specific and aimed more at a
wider audience, after all the characters are animals and easier to identify with
as they’re not usually dressed gender specifically.
However, I feel it is important to note that the main
character in these books will usually be male, for example: Peter Rabbit,
Fantastic Mr Fox, The Wind In The Willows and Winnie the Pooh all have a male
main character, with Winnie the Pooh being the worst offender- having a grand
total of one female character who’s main purpose in the story is as a mother of
In 1995, Ernst did a study analysing titles of children’s
books and found that male names were represented almost double the amount that
female names were, she also found that even books with gender neutral or female
names in the titles frequently revolved around a male main character.
There is a history of female characters lacking diverse
representation in children’s books and media.
Female characters will often be
presented as maternal and caring creatures, this will be their characters main
purpose and reason for existing in the story – these stereotypical representations
are not just presented through language but also illustration and imagery.
A children’s book that I believe reinforces this idea of motherly figures having
to stay home with the kids, cooking and cleaning, whilst the father is at work
is The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr, published in 1968.
The book is illustrated throughout with beautiful,
colourful illustrations featuring a huge friendly looking anthropomorphised
tiger, Sophie (the main character), Sophie’s mother and Sophie’s father.
Most of the images are vignettes, with plain white
backgrounds, only featuring a few important objects to inform the reader of
what kind of room they are in, for example- cupboards in the background suggest
they’re in the kitchen. This style of illustration really draws the eye more to
the characters in the foreground. The story mostly takes place in the kitchen
until the father comes home. The tiger eats all of the food that the mother was
supposed to prepare for the father character, so in the end they leave the
house and go to the cafe.
I find it interesting that the mother character is
visually presented on over double the amount of pages than the father
character, and although the two female characters: Sophie and her Mother are
mostly shown to be in kitchen, the father isn’t shown there once.
This could well have been a representation of Kerr’s own family life- after all
people write about what they know- however the characters seem very two
dimensional and stereotypical and only serve the purpose of cooking and
cleaning on one hand, and bread winning on the other.
These are stereotypes that are prominent in a lot of children’s books.
This book was written in the 60s and it is fair to assume that maybe this was
the norm at the time, however it is still incredibly popular now and I believe
that this book does reinforce stereotypical gender roles through both language and
It seems to be the norm to portray a mother cooking,
cleaning and looking after children- and a father being the breadwinner, taking
pride in financially supporting his family.
Although this may have been true to typical family life years ago, it isn’t
always the case now so it may not be fair to younger generations for publishers
to continue enforcing these same gender roles and stereotypes portrayed in
children’s media decades ago.
Women staying at home and men working was the norm until
the Second World War (1 September
1939 – 2 September 1945), this was a huge breakthrough for women’s
rights as they were introduced to the workplace for the first time.
Because it was a man’s duty to fight for our county, women had to the fill the
space in jobs that were essential to helping the country run smoothly at this
Women were allowed to continue working after the war, as they had proved that
they were capable of doing more than just fulfilling motherly duties.
“Today, in order to support a family you generally need the incomes of two
adults; half a century ago you could usually survive on one- it changed the way
we work, and it changed the way we saw gender” Jack Urwin, Man Up, 2016