Classic book The Very Hungry Caterpillar branded ‘outdated’ and ‘detrimental’ for children

Eric Carle discusses The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 2019

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Dr Helen Adam from Edith Cowan University’s School of Education observed eight daycare centres – four in Australia and four in the US – with her team where they discovered 90 percent of books read to children were not “inclusive”. Dr Adam flagged a series of classic children’s books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harry the Dirty Dog and Hairy Maclary, that she believes “perpetuated outdated stereotypes” and were not diverse enough.

The researchers delved into the stories and characters from the books and broke them down into stereotypical, gender restrictive, sensitive to gender or gender neutral.

With many of the classics being dated years ago, Dr Adam said they were “reflective of outdated viewpoints and lifestyles” in regards to gender stereotypes.

Many of these books were first published in either the 1950s or 60s.
Dr Adam said: “Purely and simply this research shows, there’s a lack of representation of boys and girls in non-traditional gender roles in these books.

“This can contribute to children from these families and backgrounds feeling excluded or marginalised.”

She added that characters were usually told from a “white, male perspective” and felt more diverse stories and characters should be used in schools.

Writing in her study, she said: “The majority of the books shared by educators in this study promoted traditional, binary and stereotypical viewpoints of gender and gender roles.

“Although books are becoming more diverse with an increased balance between leading female and male characters, many of the roles played by these characters still reflect only traditional gender roles and expectations.

“This makes it challenging for adults when choosing empowering books to share with children.”

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During the study, educators were recommended to use texts to help children understand stereotypes, and how they are conveyed in children’s books and teach children that these stereotypes were not “representative of all situations”.

Among other books listed as “detrimental” by the study, was We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Wombat Stew.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle was first published in 1969 and has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.

The Australian researcher said many parents will choose to read books to their children that they enjoyed reading as a child, which contributes to “outdated viewpoints of masculinity and femininity as well as gender roles”.

But even after viewing more inclusive content, Dr Adam concluded many still feature traditional gender roles.

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