What is it about?

We analysed the illustrations in 30 children's picture books portraying family life, asking questions such as "of which persons does the family consist?" "How, if at all, is diversity in terms of sex and gender preferences (both of children, parents, and others) represented?" "How, if at all, is ethnicity visible?" "What typical avocations, pastimes, and other activities are depicted?"

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Why is it important?

If children are fortunate enough to be read to by their parents or other care-givers, picture books are among the prime sources of information about what the world is like -- or can be like. Picture books provide models for children to develop their identity. Being made aware of the variety of identities in terms of sex, sexual preference, gender preference, ethnicity, and social class of the people in their immediate environment undoubtedly helps children broaden their view of the myriad ways in which people are both similar and different. But identities are also formed by what people enjoy doing, the sports they do or watch, the art they sample.


In line with the theme of the book in which our chapter appears, we have paid much attention to issues of sexual and gender preferences. But we emphatically wanted to make clear that we believe that a person's identity is the sum total of being a "member" of numerous different groups simultaneously, going far beyond sex, gender, skin colour, and class. We have therefore cast the net of dimensions we have systematically charted as wide as was feasible within the limits of a book chapter. Compiling a corpus consisting of 30 randomly chosen books (10 awarded books; 10 non-awarded books; 10 books with an explicit focus on non-normative sex and gender representations), we have tried to chart various identity-forming dimensions as precisely and rigorously as possible, drawing tentative conclusions supported by counting occurrences. While we make no claim for exhaustiveness, we hope that our approach will spawn similar research. Moreover, we think our chapter will be of interest not just for analysts of children picture books but also for analysts in visual studies and multimodality.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: The Depiction of Family and Self in Children's Picture Books, November 2021, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.4324/9781003145875-15.
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