Stereotypical emotional expression and its presence in Caldecott Award winning children's literature

Michelle M Marquez, Pace University


Theoretically, emotion is a concept that is difficult to define. Theorists generally agree that there is a social, biological, and cognitive component to emotion, and that emotional expression differs between men and women. Furthermore, there are definite social expectations that affect emotional expression and are transmitted to children very early through socialization as well as through reading. Gender stereotypes are embedded in language and can be activated or altered when reading depending on a child's level of immersion in a story. The Caldecott Award is an award given to children's literature based on the illustrations of the book. The award is given yearly and is a criteria used to purchase books for libraries, schools, and personal use, making the books extremely popular and widely read. The Caldecott Award is given based on illustrations, making the books typically for children ages 5 and older. The current study sampled 34 Caldecott Award winning children's books from the year 1938 through 2007 and systematically examined them for the presence of stereotypical emotional expression by the main characters of each book. It was hypothesized that males would express a cluster of emotions that included anger, disgust, guilt, and contempt more often than female characters. Female characters were hypothesized to express fear, sadness, shame, and shyness more often than males. Joy, interest, surprise, and awe were hypothesized to be gender neutral and expressed evenly across genders. Rating scales were devised for the text of each book as well as the illustrations, and the principal investigator as well as four raters, two male and two female, rated the text and illustrations of each book. Results demonstrated acceptable reliability between ratings of the principal investigator and the four raters for both text and illustrations. Results indicated that males were more likely to express the hypothesized male cluster of emotions, as well as the hypothesized gender neutral emotions, but within text only. Within illustrations, males were more likely to express sadness and guilt, and females to express shyness. One important implication of the results of this study is that art reflects life to a certain extent in that some evidence of stereotyped emotional expression was found within the books, particularly within the text. Since the Caldecott Award is typically given to books aimed at younger audiences, it is important to be aware of potential stereotypes and their potential effects on gender development in young children.

Subject Area

Social psychology|American literature

Recommended Citation

Marquez, Michelle M, "Stereotypical emotional expression and its presence in Caldecott Award winning children's literature" (2008). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3329524.



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