The Lorax
The Lorax speaks for the trees, but does anyone else?

I participated in a research project that analyzed all 292 Caldecott Award winning and honoree books from 1938–2008. Our goal was to document the messages children were receiving about the natural environment and the animals in it. Put concisely, we found over time a decline in images of the natural environment and subsequently a decrease in the presentation of wild animals. Our findings suggest that the setting of children’s picture books have moved in doors (Williams, Podeschi, Palmer, Schwadel, Meyler[1] 2012).

Children’s picture books are particularly straightforward in their moral messages, therefore they are ripe for a content analysis. Many other researchers have analyzed Caldecott books to see if they have reflected changes in culture, for instance Pescolido, Grauerholz, and Milkie (1997)[2] looked at the presentation of African Americans before and after the civil rights movement.

Teaching Content Analysis

The near ubiquity of Caldecott books in public libraries paired with the straightforward messaging inside them, make it easy for teachers everywhere to have their students perform a content analysis similar to the one we published. I’ve found that content analysis is an great way to teach research methods, cultural production, and media messaging. Students consume media all day, but they are rarely asked to stop, analyze it systematically, and then draw conclusions based on the data they collected.

I’ve put together an assignment that asks students to find a Caldecott book, perform a simplified version of the analysis we performed in our research, and analyze their findings. This is a very rudimentary assignment that would work well for a high school or university level intro to sociology class. It could also be easily adapted for more advanced classes.

Download the assignment directions here: Word | Pdf
Download the “Calldecott Data Entry Sheet” portion of the assignment here: Excel.

  1. Williams, J. Allen Jr., Christopher Podeschi, Nathan Palmer, Philip Schwadel, Deanna Meyler. 2012. “The Human-Environment Dialog in Award-winning Children’s Picture Books” Sociological Inquiry 82(1):145–159  ↩

  2. Pescosolido, Bernice A., Elizabeth Grauerholz, and Melissa A. Milkie. 1997. ‘‘Culture and Conflict: The Portrayal of Blacks in U.S. Children’s Picture Books Through the Mid-and Late-Twentieth Century.’’ American Sociological Review 62:443–64.  ↩