Gendered Discourses in Children’s Literature



Children’s literature has been a focus of the modern Women’s Movement since its inception, with ‘sexist’ children’s stories being critiqued,1 advice provided for teachers and librarians (see Moss, 1989) and alternatives identified, welcomed, written and published. The academic study of gender in children’s books has often taken the form of content analysis (e.g. Nilsen, 1977; Peterson and Lach, 1990; Berman, 1998). Content analysis provides important background on what a text is broadly about, including potentially useful quantitative information, for example the number of female and male characters (protagonists and subordinate characters), and male and female characters’ involvement in different activities.2 Linguistic analyses are rarer — though see Baker and Freebody’s (1989) study of early reading books, which included analysis of boy, girl and the verbs used to represent their actions; and Luke (1988, 1991) on different versions of Dick and Jane books. Linguistic analyses can provide a more nuanced understanding of the less visible (and perhaps more pernicious) workings of texts — it is also possible to consider, for example, transactivization (see Talbot, below) and verb types (for example, cognitive and material (Halliday, 1994), and who is associated with which). This linguistic ‘research space’ suggests a range of possibilities for future studies.


Male Character Female Character Single Shard Critical Discourse Analysis Feminist Discourse 
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  1. 6.
    These books and their reception by pre-school children are the topic of Bronwyn Davies, Frogs and Snails and Feminist Tales (1989).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jane Sunderland 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and Modern English LanguageLancaster UniversityUK

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