Sociology in Children’s Books

For generations, children’s stories have not only been written to entertain, but also to teach an important lesson or value, rather it is obvious or skillfully hidden. For this project, three books were chosen, Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, Bobby the Bunny Rabbit and Go, Dog. Go!, all having a manifest function and a latent function within them. The manifest function is the obvious lesson that the child gets out of the story and the latent function is the hidden message within the story that works itself into the child’s subconscious. To find these functions, after reading through the books to become familiar with the surface meaning, the books’ images and texts were carefully analyzed cover to cover, paying attention to the detail of the illustrations and the meaning behind the words, looking at them beyond the surface. Not only were the actions of the characters in the stories observed, but also the gender, appearance, personality and their surroundings. The observations, thoughts and ideas were recorded and then later analyzed even further to dig deeper into the books’ messages. All three books have obvious messages, as well as a message that the child may not realize, but is affected by. The books teach the children something as simple as noises that animals and objects make and different modes of transportation, to something as complex as how to express oneself using their emotions or working hard to get to a good place.

In Dr. Seuss’ Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, the main character is a white male and it is obvious because of his mustache and attire. It may just be coincidence that that is the character the author chose, or it may be because the book was published in 1970 and at that time, white males were seen as the most powerful beings in America. Throughout the book, the reader explores the many sounds that Mr. Brown can make and the words are expressed as onomatopoeias. For example, the sound of a horse galloping is described as “klopp klopp.” The noises that are loud are illustrated in big block lettered words and the noises that are quiet are illustrated in small thin lettered words. The text encourages the reader, who will most likely be a child, to make the same sounds. In a way, the text tests the child by saying, “How about YOU?” with the word you completely capitalized, as if challenging the child to be as smart as Mr. Brown and to make the same noise that he made.

The book’s manifest function is to entertain the child with its unique and outrageous color choices and animals in the illustrations and to involve the child in the story by asking them questions. However, the latent message in the story is teaching children how to express themselves and others with the different sounds that animals or objects make. The author praises Mr. Brown for the noises he can make, calling him smart and talented and making him appear powerful, encouraging the child to want to make the same noises so they, too, can be praised for the sounds that they can make.

Bobby the Bunny Rabbit was published in 2003, and yet both of the main characters are male. Once again, it may be coincidence, but it may also demonstrate that no matter how much times have changed, the male figure is still dominant. This book is short, sweet and to the point, ending with Bobby telling the hedgehog that he will be more careful as of where he is going in the future after he steps on a needle, which is the manifest function and theme of the story: to always watch where you are going to avoid getting hurt. The latent function of this story is the emotions that Bobby feels and the child’s ability to sympathize with him. The book demonstrates the expected emotions that a person should have when they are hurt or when someone helps them.

Bobby the Bunny Rabbit can be seen best through the symbolic interactionism theoretical perspective. It expresses a wide range of emotions, making the child feel happy as Bobby is hopping through the grass on a sunny day and sad when Bobby hurts himself. An interesting characteristic that is actually expressed in many children’s books is the expressions of the sun. The sun has a face on it and depending on what is going on in the book; the sun’s face reacts to it. For example, when Bobby is crying because he hurt his foot, the sun looks concerned. But when the hedgehog takes the needle out of Bobby’s foot to end the pain, the sun is smiling. It is as if the sun is used as a symbol to demonstrate the emotions that the child reader is expected to have.

In Go, Dog. Go!, the genders of the dogs are generally unknown. However, there are instances where the gender differences are obvious, for example, the scooter page. The male dog has a top hat and cane and the female dog has a big hat with a feather on it. The female dog is also a pink poodle, which is considered to be a very feminine dog and color. Go, Dog. Go! was published in 1961, so it is the oldest chosen book, but strangely, it demonstrates the most gender variation.

The manifest function of Go, Dog. Go! is to teach children about things that go. Throughout the book, the child is introduced to several vehicles and modes of transportation, such as cars, scooters and boats. Within the overall message of teaching a child different ways to go, there are bits of latent messages hidden within the manifest functions. For example, the dogs in the cars are all speeding when the light turns red. A little green bird tells the dogs to stop, which they do, therefore, teaching the child that red means stop. Then the light turns green and the bird says that the dogs can go, teaching the child that green means go. That is the manifest function. The latent function is the reason why there are traffic lights. The bird was directly in front of the cars when the light turned red and he holds up his wings and yells to the dogs to stop. If the light had not turned red and the dogs had not stopped and the bird would have been hurt, showing the child that traffic lights exist for safety reasons to prevent people (or animals) from getting hurt. At the end of the book, the dogs all arrive to a dog party, creating the theme of the story as well as another latent function: something good comes out of a long journey and hard work. Looking at Go, Dog. Go! through the functionalism theoretical perspective, the theme of the book demonstrates the positive effect that hard work can have and encourages children to have a strong work ethic to get to where they want to go. It also demonstrates with the traffic light that everything has a purpose and when society works together, good things happen.

When comparing all three books, both Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? and Bobby the Bunny Rabbit have males as the main characters, and in Go, Dog. Go!, there was not a main character, but actually a few gender variations. All three books teach the child reader an important value. In Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, the child is taught to express themself, as well as animals and objects, by making sounds. In Bobby the Bunny Rabbit, the child also learns to express themself, but through displaying their emotions, and to always be aware of their surroundings to avoid getting hurt. In Go, Dog. Go!, the child learns that if they work hard, something good will come out of it, as well as the various forms of transportation. Both of the Dr. Seuss books teach the child a general message as well as going into a deeper meaning. Bobby the Bunny Rabbit also does this, but its general message is of a different sort. Dr. Seuss’ general messages are simple, like things that go and noises that animals and objects make, while Bobby the Bunny Rabbit’s general message is that one should be cautious. When hearing a story before going to bed or during story time at school, children pay attention to the message on the surface, without realizing that there is a deeper message hidden beneath it, and instead, that deeper message sinks into a child’s mind, affecting their subconscious and unknowingly teaching them a lesson beyond their understanding.

 

 

Dr. Seuss. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?: Dr. Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.

Bobby: The Bunny Rabbit. Bath, UK: Grandreams, 2003. Print.

Eastman, P. D. Go, Dog. Go!: P.D. Eastman’s Book of Things That Go. New York, NY: Random House, 1961. Print.

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