The portrayals of male parents in Caldecott Award-winning American picture books (1938--2002): Examining the culture of fatherhood presented to young people

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Alan C. Taylor


Parents, Caldecott Award-winning, Picture books, Fatherhood, Young people

Subject Categories

Education | Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


In order to provide an understanding of the cultural scenarios associated with fatherhood in artifacts/media geared toward young children, this research examines the portrayals of male parents in award-winning American picturebooks. Caldecott medal and honor books from 1938 to 2002 are measured for the frequency of depictions of father characters, the activities that father characters engage in, and the level of involvement of the father characters via the depictions of interactions of the father characters with their children in the books. The relative portrayals of presence, absence, interactions, and direct care of father and mother characters are compared. In addition, the presence and levels of involvement of father and mother characters are compared and analyzed in a longitudinal fashion. Father characters are present in 47% of the books, compared with mothers who are present in 51% of all of the books. Fathers are depicted as engaging in less direct interactions with children in the stories than are mothers. Changes over time in the presence and depictions of fathers reveal that there is a "fluctuating" image of fathers, similar to that found by LaRossa etal.'s (2000) examination of comic strip fathers. Results are interpreted in a symbolic interaction framework with implications for understanding the culture of fatherhood as it is presented to young people.


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