The importance of picture books for introducing children to politics

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Catherine Le Nevez
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It is well known that politics can be soporific for adults; what is not known, however, is that political commitment may also be present in the bedtime stories of younger children.

In fact, a new study ofUniversity of Kansas analyzed the political messages in the most popular picture books for children in recent years, in order to see if there are, what they are and how they are presented.

Particularly Meagan Patterson, a professor of educational psychology at KU, had previously studied everything children know about politics, candidates and related topics. Later, she wanted to investigate how little ones learn politics through picture books, that is, through one of the most popular forms of literature for children from birth to the age of 8. The study was recently published in the Journal of Genetic Psychology.

The research revealed that in Disney movies there are many kings, queens and princesses among the characters, but that mayors and city council members rarely play the role of heroes. Picture books of the last few years have been found to have provided children and young people with a better window into politics.

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"One of the things we noticed in the previously collected dataset was the great variability and numerous misconceptions in children's political knowledge," said Patterson. “There was, for example, a whole kindergarten that had a ton of political knowledge and older students who had misconceptions about the difference between a president and a king. Therefore, picture books could be a good way to get children to start familiarizing themselves with difficult topics or to get information on what parents often talk about. "

Professor Patterson and the team researchers analyzed, in particular, i illustrated books from 2022 to 2022 featured on the New York Times bestseller list. Specifically, they searched 251 books for representations of political issues, political processes and leaders, symbols associated with politics or political leadership, and government employees. About half of the books had at least one such content.

The researchers made a number of relevant considerations: Topics that included political content contained very little information about political processes such as voting or protest. There vote it was almost always represented in a formal context such as, for example, that of adults voting for the presidency. The protests they were generally portrayed as past events (for example, the civil rights movement). Those books, in fact, did not refer to the way those events are represented today, suggesting that the protests were something that only happened in the past. "This could offer parents and teachers an opportunity to talk about the importance of the current polls and protests," said Patterson.

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The analysis also showed the different ways in which i were represented leader politics. In picture books, monarchical leaders were mentioned in greater numbers than democratic ones, who were mostly presented nationally, such as presidents. Mayors, city council members, and government employees were rarely mentioned, as were government employees, including mail carriers, police officers, or street cleaners. "We have included these in the analysis because it could be a way to talk better to children about political systems and processes and to understand who makes the decisions and who does jobs that influence our daily lives."

Notions learned from books have lasting effects

Finally, Patterson argues that it is important to start educating children about the importance of politics and political processes, as research has shown that lessons learned at a young age have lasting effects on the knowledge and attitudes that adults have on a variety of historical and current issues. The more educated and informed are more likely to become engaged adults who actively participate in political processes.

Reading picture books could be a way to start important conversations with children about topics that may be difficult to talk about differently. Finally, prof. Patterson said that "Literature can have a strong impact and help people think" and that it is therefore essential for children as well.



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