An Analysis of Changes in the Environmental Content of Caldecott and Newbery Medal Winning Children’s Books, 1922-2016
Elena McGuire and Patrick Della Croce
Raising environmentally conscious citizens is crucial to promote environmentally sustainable actions. Environmentally themed children’s literature is one tool to develop lifelong environmental responsibility.
Ecocritical analyses of children’s literature in the United States primarily examine single works, and the few existing large-scale environmental content analyses suggest conflicting historical trends.
This study examines several environmental content variables (characters, plot, and overall message) found in 735 Caldecott and Newbery medal winning children’s books in the United States from 1922-2016.
It analyzes the total quantities of environmental content found in these books, as well as how the frequencies of the content changed over time.
We found that less than 50% of the books contained environmental content and that there were dominant content types prevalent in both samples. Additionally, 15 of the 19 variables showed significantly (α=0.05) lower levels from 1956-2016 compared to 1922-1956 levels.
The limited quantities and scope of environmental content found in these children’s books might not support broad environmental understanding, especially for children growing up after 1956.
These findings suggest that U.S. children’s literature may not be optimized to develop environmentally responsible citizens, which is concerning considering the environmental challenges we face today.