Children’s books are undeniably important to thedevelopment of a young mind. From infancy to adolescence, these books help tocraft not only imaginations, but also aim to educate and inform the waychildren think and see things.Children’s stories are known to end with some sort ofmoral; a lesson learned, the main objective of the story is to put across onesolid point that is to be taken away and applied to real life situations – thismay then be carried with a child through their whole life and applied tomultiple different situations, the things we learned in our developmentalstages staying and growing with us. However, there are many other, smaller, sub-textual things in a story orillustration 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” – MemFox, 1993Something so appealing about children’s books is theillustration, whether it’s illustrated throughout, or just the cover- thebright visuals are used to engage the young reader, making the story moreexciting.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 achild themselves, reflecting the audience that the book is aimed at, it mayalso be the case that the character presents as the gender demographic that thebook is aimed at.In children’s books there is also a large amount of anthropomorphiccharacters, these books seem to be less gender specific and aimed more at awider audience, after all the characters are animals and easier to identify withas they’re not usually dressed gender specifically.However, I feel it is important to note that the maincharacter 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 malemain character, with Winnie the Pooh being the worst offender- having a grandtotal of one female character who’s main purpose in the story is as a mother ofanother character. In 1995, Ernst did a study analysing titles of children’sbooks and found that male names were represented almost double the amount thatfemale names were, she also found that even books with gender neutral or femalenames in the titles frequently revolved around a male main character.There is a history of female characters lacking diverserepresentation in children’s books and media. Female characters will often bepresented as maternal and caring creatures, this will be their characters mainpurpose and reason for existing in the story – these stereotypical representationsare not just presented through language but also illustration and imagery.
A children’s book that I believe reinforces this idea of motherly figures havingto stay home with the kids, cooking and cleaning, whilst the father is at workis 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 anthropomorphisedtiger, Sophie (the main character), Sophie’s mother and Sophie’s father.Most of the images are vignettes, with plain whitebackgrounds, only featuring a few important objects to inform the reader ofwhat kind of room they are in, for example- cupboards in the background suggestthey’re in the kitchen.
This style of illustration really draws the eye more tothe characters in the foreground. The story mostly takes place in the kitchenuntil the father comes home. The tiger eats all of the food that the mother wassupposed to prepare for the father character, so in the end they leave thehouse and go to the cafe.I find it interesting that the mother character isvisually presented on over double the amount of pages than the fathercharacter, and although the two female characters: Sophie and her Mother aremostly 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 allpeople write about what they know- however the characters seem very twodimensional and stereotypical and only serve the purpose of cooking andcleaning 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 wasthe norm at the time, however it is still incredibly popular now and I believethat this book does reinforce stereotypical gender roles through both language andillustration.
It seems to be the norm to portray a mother cooking,cleaning and looking after children- and a father being the breadwinner, takingpride in financially supporting his family. Although this may have been true to typical family life years ago, it isn’talways the case now so it may not be fair to younger generations for publishersto continue enforcing these same gender roles and stereotypes portrayed inchildren’s media decades ago.Women staying at home and men working was the norm untilthe Second World War (1 September1939 – 2 September 1945), this was a huge breakthrough for women’srights 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 thespace in jobs that were essential to helping the country run smoothly at thistime.Women were allowed to continue working after the war, as they had proved thatthey were capable of doing more than just fulfilling motherly duties. “Today, in order to support a family you generally need the incomes of twoadults; half a century ago you could usually survive on one- it changed the waywe work, and it changed the way we saw gender” Jack Urwin, Man Up, 2016