2 kids reading in the grassIf you’re a teacher, parent or picture-book aficionado, you know the powerful messages and values (both positive and otherwise) that can be embedded in children’s literature. As a babysitter, Rachel Franz started noticing a trend. In a recent article on phys.org, she said, “I read three or four books a night … and started noticing how much greed there was in children’s books and became deeply concerned. … I realized how damaging consumerism is to the environment and tied that to my love of children.”

Franz decided to focus her senior thesis on the primary question: “How do children’s picture books potentially deter or reinforce materialistic values and consumer culture?”

In her thesis, “Cultivating Little Consumers: How Picture Books Influence Materialism in Children,” Franz analyzed the content of  30 children’s picture books written between 1998 and 2012. She used 50 indicators across 10 categories.

Franz said, “The results of this study reveal that picture books have a significant potential to act as both an avenue for becoming consumers and a tool for countering consumerism. … In order to help children to become positive, connected, responsible individuals, we must improve the quality and consciousness of the media and their ability to respond to it.”

Franz’s thesis also includes research about the effects of consumer messages on children, the power of picture books and “counter-consumer” strategies.

The take-home message is that all of us — parents, humane educators and citizens — need to be mindful about what kinds of messages kids’ books and other media are sending children, and to consciously choose titles with themes and messages that reflect humane values. It’s also important to discuss and explore with children messages and themes that promote potentially harmful actions and values, so children learn to question, evaluate and analyze for themselves.

For lists of children’s books with humane themes, check out our Pinterest page. And check out these resources for finding children’s books with humane themes.