UNL professor publishes study examining nature in children’s books
By Sarah Miller
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
When J. Allen Williams Jr. was a kid, his mother read her favorite book to him: "The Secret Garden."
"I wanted my own secret garden," Williams said.
The book had such an impact on him, that he and his siblings planted flowers in the forest behind their house and actually grew a garden of their own.
Williams, a sociology professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, recently published a study examining the use of the natural environment in children's books.
His research, which began about seven years ago, found that during the last several decades, nature's prevalence has decreased in children's books.
Williams said this relates to society's increasing isolation from the natural world.
"I was surprised that it was as severe as it was," he said.
The research concluded that built environments were depicted in 58 percent of the images and were the major environment 45 percent of the time. Natural environments were present in 46 percent of the images and were the major environment only 32 percent of the time.
"As people have become less connected to the natural world, it occurs to them less, so they're less likely to write and include them in their books," Williams said.
The study examined books from 1938 to 2008 that received Caldecott Medal awards or honors. This turned into an examination of nearly 300 books and 8,100 images.