What’s The Difference Between Children’s Books In China And The U.S.?

By Nurith Aizenman for NPR.org

What are the hidden messages in the storybooks we read to our kids?

That’s a question that may occur to parents as their children dive into the new books that arrived over the holidays.

And it’s a question that inspired a team of researchers to set up a study. Specifically, they wondered how the lessons varied from storybooks of one country to another.

For a taste of their findings, take a typical book in China: The Cat That Eats Letters.

Ostensibly it’s about a cat that has an appetite for sloppy letters — “written too large or too small, or if the letter is missing a stroke,” explains one of the researchers, psychologist Cecilia Cheung, a professor at University of California Riverside. “So the only way children can stop their letters from being eaten is to write really carefully and practice every day.”

But the underlying point is clear: “This is really instilling the idea of effort — that children have to learn to consistently practice in order to achieve a certain level,” says Cheung. And that idea, she says, is a core tenet of Chinese culture.

The book is one of dozens of storybooks from a list recommended by the education agencies of China, the United States and Mexico that Cheung and her collaborators analyzed for the study.

They created a list of “learning-related” values and checked to see how often the books promoted them. The values included setting a goal to achieve something difficult, putting in a lot effort to complete the task and generally viewing intelligence as a trait that can be acquired through hard work rather than a quality that you’re born with.

The results — published in the Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology: The storybooks from China stress those values about twice as frequently as the books from the U.S. and Mexico.

Read more here.

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