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KU study looks at picture books and politics

A new University of Kansas study analyzed political messages in the most popular picture books of the last several years to see what political messages are included and how they are presented.

“In this study, we looked at every picture book that appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for picture books for a period between 2012 and 2017,” said Meagan Patterson, associate professor of educational psychology at KU. “That ended up being about 250 books.”

The study recently was published in the Journal of Genetic Psychology.

“We looked at all of the books to see if they contained any content that might be considered relevant to politics,” said Patterson. “That could include a depiction of a political leader, like a president or a mayor, but also political leaders like kings and queens and princesses, things like that. We looked for the depiction of political issues, talking about war, poverty, immigration. We also looked for whether there were depictions of political processes like voting or protesting and also whether there were depictions of government employees.”

About half of the books had at least one instance of such content.

“This study and other studies like it really argue that if parents or teachers or other adults want to, they could teach about politics more directly,” said Patterson. “Picture books could be one way of getting that conversation or that process started.”

Research has shown lessons learned at a young age carry lasting effects into knowledge and attitudes adults hold on a variety of issues.

Picture Courtesy KU Public Affairs

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