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Research Paper (Argument)-Reflections of Society in Children's Literature

ldixon 8 / 3  
Dec 1, 2008   #1
The research paper that I had to write was suppose to take a stand for something and support it with research. Can someone please look over my paper so far and let me know what you think. I am having problems with the opening which I am not sure accurately states my focus. Please read and let me know what you think. Thanks

Reflections of Society in Children's Literature

Reflections of Society in Children's Literature
Nutritionist, Victor Lindlahr once said, "You are what you eat," or in this case, what you read. In a sense, the books children read may alter whom they become, as they grow older. Furthermore, children's literature tends to influence a child's perspective on society and their role in it. Although there were many great books written in the preceding eras, many of them signified aspects of society that are no longer considered to be politically correct. As a result, there are ongoing arguments over whether stereotypical children's literature benefits or hinders the development of a child. Thus, it is vitally important to explain to children why literature exemplifying these negative views of society is incorrect instead of banning them from reading it. Nevertheless, all children's literature is important because it reflects the time in which it was written and the changes of societal values such as gender, race, and sexual orientation.

Generally, past societies viewed women as feminine homemakers and men as masculine providers. For instance, in the book Out of this Furnace written by Thomas Bell, the women take care of everything at home; cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children, while the men go work in the mills to provide for their families. Consequently, this view, commonly known as gender socialization, was passed from generation to generation, eventually leading to gender role stereotypes. This common generalization of women portrayed them as inferior, unintelligent, emotional, and needy, whose only role was to cook, clean, and raise kids. These illusions of women are evident in most early works of children's literature, such as Mary Poppins, Little Women, and Swiss Family Robinson, which tend to reflect the Victorian period. Until about thirty-five years ago, non-sexist books were very rare, almost nonexistent. However, because of the women's rights movement, societal views towards women have slightly changed. Though still not equal, the perception of women's roles today appears less stereotyped than in the past. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes still exist in children's literature today, though not as abundantly. For instance, the book Possum Come a-Knockin' written by Nancy Van Laan in 1992, contains the verse, "And Pa was busy fixin' and Ma was busy cookin' and Granny was a-knittin' when a possum come a-knockin' at the door" (7).

Today, the typical stereotypes of girls and boys noticeable in children's literature are that boys are tough and girls are wimpy. These lopsided images include adventurous boys playing sports and girls dressing up or playing with dolls. Ordinarily gender biases are found in the content, language, and illustrations of children's books. For example, published in 1970 was the book I'm glad I'm a boy!: I'm glad I'm a girl!, written by Whitney Darrow, in which the content depicts "boys as handsome, girls as beautiful, boys as doctors, girls as nurses": the whole book is full of typical stereotypes (10). Conversely, published in 2006, the book Counting on Grace, written by Elizabeth Winthrop, portrays a twelve year old girl and boy who are forced to quit attending school in order to help their mothers work in a textile mill. The book portrays the two children as equals with both of them helping their parents provide for the family. The book also teaches children that women had to work just like men, which contradicts gender stereotyping.

Furthermore, children's literature reflects the times in which it was written through prejudicial attitudes and racist content. Racism, the belief that one's own race is superior to all others, has been evident since the beginning of civilization. Early children's literature often depicted certain races in unethical ways, sometimes not even on purpose. For instance, the original 1922 edition of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, written by Hugh Lofting, contained several derogatory terms and images towards Africans and Native Americans. In 1988, the book was revised for reprinting and contains the following epilogue by Christopher Lofting, son of Hugh Lofting, explaining the revisions: "Hugh Lofting would have been appalled at the suggestion that any part of his work could give offense and would have been the first to have made the changes himself." This demonstrates the changes of societal views over time and how racism in children's books can reflect the times in which they were written. It was not until after the Civil Rights Movement that books started to relinquish prejudice and racist content, eventually leading to multicultural books that enlighten children on how different is not always bad. For example, the book What's the Difference?, by Brian Footitt, teaches children the importance of acceptance, no matter race, culture, or religion. According to the article Children's book tackles racism written by Michael Gennings, Footitt says, "Children must know from a very young age the importance of acceptance." The world has become so diverse that people need to realize and teach their children that there are no "pure" races in existence anymore due to migration and cross-cultural marriages.

Finally, the most noticeable reflection of recent times in children's literature is the theme of sexual orientation. For the most part, alternative family forms were greatly opposed by past societies. Therefore, to the best of my knowledge and research, I could not find any children's books that discussed sexual orientation until the late 1960s. Still today, there are battles of morality over same-sex marriages and homosexuality. Likewise, recently there have been many controversial children's books with gay or lesbian themes that display same-sex families. For example, the book and Tango Makes Three, published in 2005, tells the story about two male penguins that like to cuddle together in the zoo who decide they want to have a baby penguin like all the other penguin couples, so they adopt one. Some other children's books that support the theme of same-sex couples include Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy's Roommate, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, and The Different Dragon. Although the majority think that these books can have negative effects on a child, the author of Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, Susanne Bösche says, "I wrote Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin back in 1981 because I became aware of the problems which some children face when meeting family groupings different from the ones they are familiar with" (par. 5). Sooner or later children are going to come in contact with different

Overall, the society that we live in has made giant leaps forward, but there is always room for improvement. Children's literature from the past reflects the changes that society has seen over the years, mainly speaking from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day. Children should never be restrained from reading literature that might contain offensive content because it shows them the hardships, differences, and ignorance that people have had to overcome throughout the centuries, reminding them of how fortunate they are. Although racism, stereotyping, and prejudices are still present today, every child, if properly brought up, can contribute to the cause of ending hatred. Giving children literature that shows them what the past was like can teach them why racial diversity and cultural relativity are so important today. Teaching children why these changes took place instead of secluding them from it can lead towards a world of equality. Children of all races and ethnicities can benefit from reading literature of the past and present.

EF_Kevin 8 / 13,334 129  
Dec 1, 2008   #2
I thought the opening paragraph was fine, and your intention clearly stated in the last sentence.

Though still not equal, the perception of women's roles today appears less stereotypical than in the past.

Children's literature reflects the times ...this sentence was started with the word 'furthermore' and I took it out because it was used a couple other times, and seemed repetitive.

For the most part, alternative family units were greatly opposed by past societies.

Good subject and nicely written. (And I agree with you!)


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