Perhaps not surprisingly, picture books are increasingly illustrating cities and built environments over natural environmental settings.
Research on the 296 Caldecott award winners from 1938 to 2008 found that over the years these books represented nature and animals less and less. (See a discussion of the article, “The Human-Environment Dialog in Award-winning Children’s Picture Books” by J. Allen Williams Jr,Christopher Podeschi, Nathan Palmer, Philip Schwadel and Deanna Meyler here.)
The researchers thought that since environmental problems are of growing concern, it was possible that nature imagery might increase to highlight these issues. But they also realized that given our increasing isolation from the natural world, picture books might echo this isolation. Indeed, according to the World Health Organization, in 1990 less than 40% of the global population lived in cities, but by 2010, more than half of all people lived in an urban areas.
We should note that of course, Caldecott winners are great books, but they may ultimately not be representative of all children’s books.
Still, the issue of how we represent nature and built environments is dear to our hearts here at Kids Future Press. We’re aiming for that middle ground, where stories reflect how the natural world supports people and how people nurture nature within built contexts through “eco-districts,” green roofs, urban agriculture, renewable energy and alternative transportation. While these elements can never be the story itself, they and other “nature” elements, serve as the backdrop for the characters and adventures in our stories.
Great minds think alike and there are other books in our space that we think you may like. These are a few titles we’ve come across recently.
- Hello, Ruby by Linda Liukas, cofounder of Rails Girls (see our post on supporting girls in STEM subjects). This forthcoming picture book for 4-7 year olds features a girl called Ruby and her adventure that just happens to relate ideas of computer programming such as sequencing, variables, loops, conditionals and operators. Read about it on mashable.
- Hot Air by Sandrine Dumas Roy, illustrated by Emmanuelle Houssais. “An unusual, sideways look at global warming and environmental politics” according to publisher Phoenix Yard books.
- LEO the Maker Prince: Journeys in 3D Printing by Carla Diana. This picture book teaches the basics of 3D printing and all the items and characters in the book are downloadable 3D “patterns” on Thingiverse. Get more background on the book on c|net.
- Dot by Randi Zuckerber, illustrated by Joe Berger. How Dot, a young tech-savvy girl, learns to moderate her use of technology and actually goes outside to play. Read Zuckerberg’s Huffington Post article about the book.
- How the Meteorite Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland “chronicles how a rock from outer space broke free from its billion-year orbit, crashed into a teenager’s Chevy Malibu, and landed in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History” according to publisher Blue Apple Books.
- Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, is the story of an inventor, based on real life personality Lodner Phillips, who creates a submarine to talke his family for a trip to the bottom of the lake.
What additions would you make to this list? Let us know in the comments.