Educators working with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are expected to use interdisciplinary materials to teach ecological concepts. Yet, multiple studies indicate picture books can misinform children about ecological concepts and processes. Our objectives were to document to what extent picture books misrepresent important ecological concepts and test whether there are temporal trends in the prevalence of ecological concepts. We conducted visual-rhetoric/content assessments on Caldecott Medal books (n
= 77; 1 per year since 1938). Text and images were assessed for presence/absence of five ecological concepts emphasized by NGSS (patterns, scale, systems, structure/function, stability/change) which sync with five from a 2014 survey of ESA members (habitat, scale, ecosystem, community, organism). We also documented presence/absence of plants, animals, species richness, and landscape types. Further, we documented flagrant inaccuracies such as anthropomorphized animals and romanticized human-nature interactions. Because the proportion of people living in rural landscapes has decreased over time, we predicted newer books would represent fewer ecological concepts. Quantifying temporal trends in portrayal of ecological concepts has implications for ecological literacy. Children and adults can learn about nature through picture books, and elementary teachers may rely on picture books to squeeze science into other subjects.
Results/Conclusions: At present, we have analyzed two books from each decade (1930-1980, n = 12). All ten ecological concepts were represented at least once; organism (92% of books), habitat (58%), and ecosystem (58%) were most prevalent. At least 1 nonhuman organism was present in each book. Trees were the most common plant (92%). Dogs (62%), horses (58%), and cows/oxen (50%) were the most prevalent domestic animals. The most prevalent wild animals were fish (42%) and insects (33%). The most flagrant inaccuracy was anthropomorphized animals (33%), including talking (33%) and having human morals (17%). 67% of books presented a romanticized view of human-nature interactions, while 58% conveyed a utilitarian human-centric attitude. Only 25% of books represented the intrinsic value of nature, the same percent that portrayed nature as something to overcome or control. Preliminary results indicate that, although organisms, habitats, and ecosystems are represented in the majority of picture books, there are inconsistencies in how the concepts are portrayed. We did not detect significant changes over time (all P > 0.14), although some trends appear nascent. Considering the neurological difficulty of overcoming misconceptions, however, there is considerable value in establishing a baseline understanding of how picture books may confound ecological knowledge.