Want to Know What a Culture Values? Read a Children’s Book

Leah Hickman | Contributor to ChristianHeadlines.com | Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Want to Know What a Culture Values? Read a Children’s Book

Have you ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat”? The same rule applies to the stuff that you mentally digest, which means it’s equally true to say, “You are what you read.”

According to NPR, a group of researches confirmed this truth in a recent study of children’s storybooks.

The researchers conducted a study comparing several different storybooks recommended by educators from China, the U.S., and Mexico. Their goal was to see how the storybook lessons differed from country to country.

According to their findings, the storybooks from China emphasize effort and perseverance, promoting the idea “that children have to learn to consistently practice in order to achieve a certain level.”

As the researchers found, Chinese storybooks promote these values of hard work and achievement “about twice as frequently as the books from the U.S. and Mexico.” The researchers suggest that this may have a correlation with the fact that “children in China consistently score higher on academic tests compared to children in the U.S. and Mexico.”

While Chinese tales promote perseverance, children’s books in the U.S. and Mexico give more attention to values like happiness. Even when the books are not explicitly about being happy, the researchers noted that “[t]hey’ll just have a lot of drawings of children who are playing happily in all sorts of settings — emphasizing that smiling is important, that laughing is important, that being surrounded by people who are happy is important.” This type of storybook correlates significantly with the western vision of the “American dream.”

The observations from this study bring to mind William Kilpatrick’s argument in his perceptive book Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong. Stories, he says, have a powerful effect on children. As he writes in the the chapter “Vision and Virtue”: “Many of the moral principles we subscribe to seem reasonable to us only because they are embedded within a vision or worldview we hold to be true—even though we might not think very often about it.” This vision, he suggests, is largely shaped by stories and the examples set by characters in the stories.

In essence, then, we are what we read because what we read shapes the way we see everything else. The same applies to children on both sides of the globe, whether in China or in America.


Leah Hickman is a 2017 graduate of Hillsdale College’s English program. She freelances for BreakPoint.org and has written pieces for multiple Hillsdale College campus publications as well as for ChristianAnswers.net/Spotlight and the Discover Laura Blog. Read more by Leah at aworldofgrasspeople.blogspot.com

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Publication date: January 17, 2018