Patterns in Contemporary Canadian Picture Books: Radical Change in Action

Beverley Brenna, Shuwen Sun, Yina Liu


This comprehensive qualitative examination of two groups of Canadian picture books, 57 titles published in 2005 and 120 titles published in 2015, offers comparative data that demonstrate patterns related to authors, illustrators, characterization, genres, audiences, and particular elements of Radical Change. Following book collection, content analysis was conducted with a consideration of Dresang’s notion that books for children are evolving with respect to forms and formats, perspectives, and boundaries. Our process for analysis was developed from Berg’s framework of systematic content analysis based on predetermined as well as emerging categories. There is much recent research exploring particular content in children’s literature, supporting the central importance of literature in the classroom and community. Comparative Canadian studies across decades, however, are rare, and are increasingly important as a way to track and describe the changes that are taking place with respect to books for young people. It is interesting that in both 2005 and 2015, picture books tended to feature children as protagonists, with the highest number of books from the 2005 set utilizing the fantasy genre (at 34%) or realistic fiction (at 28%) and the highest number of books from the 2015 set occurring in non-fiction (at 34%, up from 16% in 2005) or fantasy (at 31%). Historical fiction in both years presented comparatively low, at 12% and 3%, respectively.

Findings of this study support and extend the notion of Radical Change. The research team noted marked innovations within the 2015 group related to forms and formats, boundaries, and perspectives. Of particular note are the increasing numbers of books that present Indigenous content and perspectives. While many of the changes appearing in Canadian picture books between 2005 and 2015 might be predicted through the standard categories of Radical Change (Dresang, 1999), other findings also emerged that suggest new Radical Change considerations. Continuing to examine children’s literature as artifacts of a culture can illuminate particular aspects of that culture and offer opportunities to engage authors, illustrators, and publishers in filling gaps where particular perspectives or topics are missing. Advocacy is important as children’s literature continues to be a source of tension for what it portrays and presents as well as its missing voices. A knowledge of patterns and trends in relation to available content and resources supports classroom practice as well as encourages classroom research and further explorations of the evolving landscape of children's books.


K-12 education; qualitative research; children's literature; picture-books; Radical Change

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