The Depictions of Fathers and Children in Best-Selling Picture Books in the United States: A Hybrid Semiotic Analysis

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					  The Depictions of Fathers and Children in
Best-Selling Picture Books in the United States:
          A Hybrid Semiotic Analysis
                                 SUZANNE M. FLANNERY QUINN
                                  University of South Florida


     This research examines the presence and depictions of fathers in best-selling
     picture books in the U.S. using a hybrid semiotic approach. In 200 best-sell-
     ing picture books for children, among those featuring only a father or only a
     mother, fathers are featured as prominent as a parent in fewer books (n = 4)
     than mothers (n = 10). The semiotic analysis of the images and text in two se-
     lected picture books reveals connotations related to the roles of fathers as mas-
     culine, protective, nurturing, and playful, and the conceptualization of children
     as naïve, vulnerable, and playful. Further illuminations from the texts are of
     indexical signs and second-order symbols related to the father’s association
     with night and in particular the moon.

     Keywords: fatherhood, culture of fatherhood, American culture, children’s lit-
     erature, children’s culture, hybrid semiotic analysis


     The purpose of this research is to build on the “culture of fatherhood” line of in-
quiry, which examines how fathers are portrayed in a variety of contemporary media
(Atkinson & Blackwelder, 1993; Coltrane & Allen 1994; Day & Mackey, 1986; Flan-
nery Quinn, 2006; LaRossa, Gordon, Wilson, Bairan, & Jaret, 1991; LaRossa, Jaret,
Gadgil & Wynn, 2000). The present study begins with a content analysis of contem-
porary best-selling children’s literature in the U.S. market to determine how many
books feature fathers as prominent parents, i.e., as the only parent, and having a promi-
nent role. Then, two representative books are used for a semiotic analysis of the por-
trayal of fathers in the images and text.
     The philosophical underpinning of this work is that fatherhood is a socially con-
structed gender role that is mediated by culture. The research is guided by a human


      Suzanne M. Flannery Quinn, Department of Childhood Education and Literacy Studies, University of
South Florida.
      Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Suzanne M. Flannery Quinn, Depart-
ment of Childhood Education and Literacy Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 37620. Electronic
mail: SQuinn@tempest.coedu.usf.edu

Fathering, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2009, 140-158.
© 2009 by the Men’s Studies Press, LLC. http://www.mensstudies.com. All rights reserved.
fth.0702.140/$14.00 • DOI: 10.3149/fth.0702.140 • Url: http://dx.doi.org/10.3149/fth.0702.140

                                                  140
                                                 DEPICTIONS OF FATHERS AND CHILDREN


ecological perspective, which conceptualizes children’s literature as a cultural artifact
that influences and mediates culture to young children and their families (Flannery
Quinn, 2003, 2006). This research is important to scholarship in the broad field of fam-
ily studies, with regard to how
				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: This research examines the presence and depictions of fathers in best-selling picture books in the U.S. using a hybrid semiotic approach. In 200 best-selling picture books for children, among those featuring only a father or only a mother, fathers are featured as prominent as a parent in fewer books (n = 4) than mothers (n = 10). The semiotic analysis of the images and text in two selected picture books reveals connotations related to the roles of fathers as masculine, protective, nurturing, and playful, and the conceptualization of children as nave, vulnerable, and playful. Further illuminations from the texts are of indexical signs and second-order symbols related to the father's association with night and in particular the moon. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]
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