What do you see when you really look at the books on your kids\’ shelf? In many Australian homes, the picture books being read to children every night are missing an important ingredient: female characters.
We conducted original research by reading Australia\’s top 100 bestselling kids\’ picture books of 2017, with the aim of discovering the extent of female under-representation.
The picture is not pretty: males outnumbered females in most books; books were more likely to have no lead than a female lead; twice as many male authors as female authors; and 31 books had 100 percent male characters, while only six had 100 percent female characters.
We turned this confronting dataset into a beautiful piece of digital storytelling by writing, designing, illustrating and building our own online kids\’ picture book. Bear Finds a Voice takes the reader through the main findings of Cristen\’s research in an engaging, unique, elegant way.
We also wrote an accompanying news article, speaking to authors and other experts in an effort to delve deeper into the findings and explain to readers what\’s causing this imbalance and how we might address it.
What makes this project innovative?
We turned this confronting dataset into a beautiful piece of digital storytelling by writing, designing, illustrating and building our own online kids' picture book. Bear Finds a Voice takes the reader through the main findings of Cristen's research in an engaging, unique, elegant way.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The two pieces generated an overwhelmingly positive audience response, sparking conversations between parents, teachers and students around the country. Writer and commentator Clementine Ford followed up our research with a column for Fairfax. Some social media comments: "Thank you for the research you did! So helpful and educational" - Clementine Ford. "Shared this with my year 4 class. Stds have set a challenge for the boys to read books with female lead characters." "Sometimes something just takes your breath away. Beautiful story" "Wonderful and really educational too! My child (who's really interested in sexism and stereotypes etc) just read the whole thing to me."
Source and methodology
The list of the top bestselling kids' picture books came from Nielsen BookScan. We filtered out duplicates (eg paperback and hardcover versions of the same book) to get a more representative dataset. The books were then analysed for gender representation in the characters, storylines, author etc, and this information was entered into a Google spreadsheet. We then conducted spot checks and re-read many of the books to ensure the validity of the data.
Google spreadsheet, Jupyter Notebook,
Researcher and author: Cristen Tilley, Illustrator and developer: Nathan Hoad, Designer: Ben Spraggon, Editor: Matt Liddy.