Heroes and Heroines or Just Like Us? Young People’s Views on Childhood in Children’s Books
Childhood is socially constructed and holds profound meaning for contemporary society. Although children are increasingly seen as social agents, the dominant view is that children are unable to make substantial contributions to society due to their immaturity and minority status. Childhood theorists have countered this by emphasising the importance of seeking children’s views, an approach which underpins this study. Children’s books provide ideological sources for constructing and understanding childhood. They have a cultural role in representing childhood to children and adults and are widely perceived to be a resource for children’s education and socialisation. In addition, children’s books are written, produced and their use is mediated by adults. This study aims to find out if books provide a space for children in a predominantly adult constructed world by exploring what young people think about the ways in which childhood is represented in children’s books. The research was undertaken with young people aged 10 to 14 years, concentrating on the lower and higher end of the age group, and took place in schools. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used with 158 young people taking part in a questionnaire survey and 43 participating in interviews. The study found that young people were active co-constructors, rather than passive recipients, of representations of childhood in children’s books. Young people demonstrated that they were skilled text handlers who acknowledged the influence of other media on their engagement with books although there were marked differences in their reading interests depending on age and gender. Young people were interested in fiction which portrayed assertive and competent depictions of childhood which they could relate to their own experience as well as enjoying reading about young characters with powers and skills which were extraordinary. Young people did not view childhood or the depiction of childhood negatively, accepting it as a state of being rather than one of becoming, hence contributing to their own understandings of childhood.