Australian researchers warn children’s book ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ is ‘harmful’ to children

Why a children’s expert warns classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar is ‘outdated’ and ‘harmful’ to Australian kids

  • Very hungry caterpillars could be ‘bad’ for kids, says researcher
  • Dr. Helen Adam flags children’s books she doesn’t think are diverse enough
  • She looked at eight daycare books and found most were not inclusive
  • Dr. Adam advises educators to include more diverse new books

The classic children’s book “The Hungry Caterpillar” may be “harmful” to children’s reading, according to a new study by a senior children’s researcher.

Dr Helen Adam, from Edith Cowan University’s School of Education, has flagged a range of classic children’s books she believes “perpetuate outdated stereotypes” and are not diverse enough.

Some of the books Dr Adam highlighted in her research include older classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harry the Dirty Dog and Maclary the Furry.

Classic children's book The Hungry Caterpillar may be 'harmful' for kids to read, a senior researcher says

Classic children’s book The Hungry Caterpillar may be ‘harmful’ for kids to read, a senior researcher says

Dr Helen Adam (pictured) from Edith Cowan University's School of Education has flagged a collection of classic children's books she believes

Dr Helen Adam (pictured) of Edith Cowan University’s School of Education has flagged a range of classic children’s books she believes “perpetuate outdated stereotypes” and are not diverse enough

In her research, Dr Adam and her team looked at eight long-term daycare centres – four in Western Australia and four in the US – and found that 90 per cent of children’s books were not inclusive.

The researchers looked at the stories and characters in the books and broke them down as stereotyped, gender-restricted, gender-sensitive or gender-neutral.

Many of the books are “old” and first published in the 1950s or 1960s, which Dr Adam said reflected “outdated views and lifestyles” and conveyed stereotyped gender stereotypes.

“This study shows purely and simply that boys and girls are underrepresented in non-traditional gender roles in these books,” she explained.

Dr Adam said the books did not present gender-diverse or racially diverse characters and were often told from a “white male perspective”.

This could cause children from these families and backgrounds to feel excluded or marginalized, the senior researcher claims.

Dr Adam said the books she flagged were not the problem, but rather that educators and parents often rely on them rather than new books with different stories and characters.

“The majority of books shared by educators in this study promoted traditional, binary, and stereotyped views about gender and gender roles,” she wrote in the study.

She added that many parents would choose to read their children the books they loved to read as children, leading to “outdated views about masculinity and femininity and gender roles”.

In her research, Dr Adam looked at 8 daycare centres in Australia and the US and found that 90% of children's books were not inclusive

In her research, Dr Adam looked at 8 daycare centres in Australia and the US and found that 90% of children’s books were not inclusive

Some of the books Dr Adam has highlighted in her research include older classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Harry the Dirty Dog (pictured)

Some of the books Dr Adam has highlighted in her research include older classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Harry the Dirty Dog (pictured)

“Hairy Maclary” by Lynley Dodd is another book that Dr. Adam marked as “outdated views and lifestyles”

Many of the centres' books are

Many of the centres’ books are “older” and first published in the 1950s or 1960s, which Dr Adam said reflected “outdated views” and conveyed stereotyped gender stereotypes

Dr Adam expressed delight that many new books now feature different stories and characters, which she believes should be incorporated into children’s reading.

But even with inclusive content, Dr Adam found that many still had traditional gender roles.

“While books have become more diverse with more balance between male and female protagonists, many of the roles played by these characters still only reflect traditional gender roles and expectations,” she said.

“This makes it challenging for adults to choose books to share with children.”

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

Classic children’s books ‘bad’ for kids

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carr

Dirty Harry by Gene Zion

Fluffy Maclary by Lynley Dodd

Marcia Vaughan Stewed Wombat

“We’re Going Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen

Where Are the Wild Animals by Maurice Sendak

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