Quick: remember reading a books and stories when you were a kid that plunged you into the natural world: Think of Where the Wild Things Are, The Secret Garden, Ann of Green Gables, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Yearling or even that fabulous tale of heaths and heartache, Wuthering Heights. Well if you were a kid today, the picture books you were looking at would do little to instill in you a love for stories set in natural environments.
Forests, jungles, plains, heaths, fruit trees, rivers, and wild animals: today, they seem to be disappearing from children’s picture books. Instead, more and more of kids’ stories are being set inside homes, schools, and other non-natural environments. According to a study of almost 300 Caldecott Medal winners and honorees over the past 70 years or so, signs of nature have been steadily declining from children’s literature.
Early in the study, built environments dominated in about 35% book images, by the end of the study, that number had risen to 55%. Early on, natural environments dominated about 40% of the time; by the end of the study, that figure had fallen to 25%. According to the lead author of the study, “The natural environment and wild animals have all but disappeared from these books.” Sad, isn’t it?
Does a growing lack of connection with nature matter for children? Susan Linn, psychologist and author of The Case for Make Believe, says yes: “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health. And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it…” Sounds like the field is wide open for writers who bring nature and animals into the worlds they create for kids. Write on!