Can children’s literature create responsible citizens? 

Business Impact: Can children’s literature create responsible citizens?
Business Impact: Can children’s literature create responsible citizens?

Classic children’s stories such as the Aesop fable The tortoise and the hare are often laced with lessons or hidden morals. Could they encourage kids to be kind to the environment?

Berit Huntebrinker, a researcher at the University of Agder recently completed a thesis on how four picture books for children and three comics portray humans’ relationship with nature. All the books and comics were created by Norwegian authors and illustrators and were published between 1974 and 2019. Huntebrinker noted that while some of the texts were directly educational, others left room for a conclusion to be sought by the reader.

One key theme to emerge from the majority of the books and comics examined was that the main character had to take responsibility for nature but had free will to choose how they wanted to solve any issues. The onus was on individual responsibility rather than collective responsibility.

This focus on individual responsibility did not surprise Huntebrinker. “Children’s books and popular literature are often simplified presentations and the individual is often the focus in popular literature,” she explained.

However, Det blå folket og karamell-fabrikken (1974), written by Tor Åge Bringsværd and illustrated by Thore Hansen, was found to have a greater emphasis on collective responsibility. The reason identified for this is that the book’s creators were critical of the political and social conditions in Norway at the time and were therefore interested in promoting a collective conscious.

“A nuanced reading is fruitful and necessary to fully appreciate the complexity of children’s literature, also when it comes to the presentation of different views about our responsibility for nature,” argued Huntebrinker. 

The researcher’s conclusion is that while children’s authors agree that the way we behave towards nature needs to change, they do not agree on what those behaviours should be – a conundrum that has great applicability in the world of business and management.

This article originally appeared in the print edition (Issue 2 2023) of Business Impact, magazine of the Business Graduates Association (BGA).

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