Do pink glitter books have to come out of children's rooms? How significant are books for children? And what should parents pay attention to when reading aloud? A picture book explorer in conversation.
The bookshelves of our children are often very pink and blue – how equal is what we read to you? In a data analysis of more than 50,000 children's books, the SZ tried to find answers. The elementary pedagogue Lars Burghardt from the University of Bamberg has also done research in day nurseries and knows how pink princesses look at children.
SZ: Mr. Burghardt, do parents have to ban books with pink princesses and dragon-killing princes from the children's rooms?
Burghardt: No one wants to interpret only correct political books in the children's rooms. Children should be allowed to decide for themselves – even if the glittering, pink book contradicts my noble pedagogical goals. But the variety in children's books is important for girls to realize that they are the good princess and the same wild rabaucus. And so that guys can see that they also have long hair and are allowed to cry.
What significance do children's books have for the idea of gender roles?
In early childhood, at the age of two or three years, gender ideas develop. Children start to realize what a boy and a girl are. At the same time, picture books are omnipresent at this age and the figures in them have exemplary character: Whenever sweet princesses or daredevil heroes are depicted, this has a subjective effect. That's fine as long as the kids identify with it – but if a girl does not want to be the sweet princess, that's limiting. And conversely, once boys are portrayed as vulnerable, it may also be enabling.
They examined 6000 figures from picture books currently used in day care centers. Do the stories make that possible?
The gender ratio of the protagonists is gradually converging. There are more and more active female characters and overall a tendency to strong girl books in the market. But these are rather exceptions and there is not the equivalent of Weak Boys books. Most of the picture-book market is still riddled with stereotypes.
How exactly do children's books convey stereotypes?
That starts with the look: The classic colors for boys are still blue, gray and green, for girls pink and red. And not only our, other studies show that boys are usually courageous and strong and rarely vulnerable. Parents still have the classic role allocation: women take care of the household, men are often not shown in the house – and then the dad sits in the traditional way with the newspaper at the table. Conversely, men are often seen at work and women hardly.
In many families is the everyday life – books should not reflect that too?
Of course, books often show situations in the child's life-world, which is also important. But there should be other portrayals for the kids to see: Ah, that's different from ours at home, but it works as well: double earner couples and single parents, rainbow and patchwork families, princesses and rabbits. Children should also be irritated and be able to widen their gaze. But primarily a supposedly perfect world of father, mother and child is shown. For example, we did not find single-parent or disabled people out of 6,000 figures.
We have fathers' months, more and more women in leadership positions and a chancellor. Do not children's books keep pace with social development?
When you look at picture books, things are often not as equal as we would like. The books have adapted to the emancipation movement in the 1970s, but that has not continued to that extent. Of course, the publishers also benefit from this, because pink glitter works for many girls. And when adults ask for a book for their goddaughter, the first question is not what the child is interested in, but whether it is for a boy or a girl. But at least: Even a stereotypical book can be a wonderful occasion to question these representations on a child-friendly level.