“The University for the Poor”: Portrayals of Class in Translated Children’s Literature
by Danielle E. E. Forest, Kasey L. Garrison Garrison & Sue C. C. Kimmel — 2015
Background: Scholars of children’s literature have been investigating portrayals of females and racial groups for several decades, yet few have examined depictions of social class. Research on social class depictions in children’s literature is needed in order to identify books that affirm children’s class identities and offer portrayals of socioeconomic diversity.
Focus of the Study: This study investigates portrayals of social class in 35 titles receiving the Batchelder Award or Honor between 2001 and 2013. The Batchelder Award recognizes outstanding translated books with international origins. International books for children were selected in this study because American titles are thought to be middle class in orientation; the researchers hypothesized that the international books might provide a more complex analysis of social class.
Research Design: The inductive approach to qualitative content analysis was utilized. At least two researchers read and coded each book in the sample. The researchers examined passages referencing social class as well as other cultural constructs such as race/ethnicity, gender, religion, and nationality.
Findings: The researchers identified several markers that served as indicators of social class status: living conditions, food, safety and protection, healthcare, leisure, education, occupation, residence, speech and mannerisms, clothing/dress, death rituals, and material possessions. Social class was often associated with other identities such as a character’s religion or ethnicity. Characters from typically marginalized class groups, such as the poor and the working class, were portrayed sensitively and with dignity.
Conclusions: The markers of class identified in this study may serve as a framework for other researchers interested in examining class in children’s literature or media. The findings may help teachers and teacher educators identify and select books that realistically and respectfully portray members of different social classes.
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