How can I have gone this long without ever reading One Morning in Maine? A shocking lapse. The first picture you've posted does feel very Eleanor and Isabel. Clearly, a book we need to read in this house.
I'm sure you've heard in the last few days about the recent publication of a big study on gender disparity in children's books: "Gender in Twentieth-Century Children's Books : Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters." It's an interesting study, though a little dry to read. There's a good summary of the findings here, at Science Daily (thanks to Jessica@Vegbooks, who posted the url in a comment).
The main ideas: there are measurably more male characters than female characters in children's books, and female representation has not increased steadily over the last century. The statistics are pretty staggering. From Science Daily: "No more than 33 percent of children's books published in any given year contain central characters that are adult women or female animals, but adult men and male animals appear in up to 100 percent of books."
It's interesting to me that the study finds more gender bias in books centered on animal characters than human ones. Science Daily again: "Although books published in the 1990s came close to parity for human characters (with a ratio of 0.9:1 for child characters; 1.2:1 for adult characters), a significant disparity of nearly 2 to 1 remains for male animal characters versus female."
I was first alerted to the study via an NYT blog post, which summarizes the findings but gets at least one fact wrong: the author claims that Make Way for Ducklings is the only Caldecott winner with a central female figure. The study actually refers to the book Have You Seen My Duckling?, by Nancy Tafuri, and says this about it:
A closer look at the types of characters with the greatest disparity reveals that only one Caldecott winner has a female animal as a central character without any male central characters. The 1985 Honor book Have You Seen My Duckling? follows Mother Duck asking other pond animals this question as she searches for a missing duckling. One other Caldecott has a female animal without a male animal also in a central role; however, in Officer Buckle and Gloria, the female dog is present alongside a male police officer. Although female animal characters do exist, books with male animals, such as Barkley (mentioned earlier) and The Poky Little Puppy, were more than two-and-a-half times more common across the century than those with female animals.
I'm curious to hear your reaction to this study. We've written a lot here about gender in children's books, and finding strong female characters (check out some of our book lists, too). Do you feel this disparity actively as a bookseller and book-buyer? Do you think that the gender of animal characters is more or less influential than the gender of human characters?