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Child abuse in contemporary children's literature: A critical multicultural analysis

Albertina Navarro Rios, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Child maltreatment is an issue that affects approximately three million children, the consequences of which have been documented in numerous empirical studies. Books are of vital influence in children's lives and they can either help or hinder the ways children deal with problems. Although research exists on the portrayal of persons with disabilities, stepfamilies, gay families, adoption, and foster care, a critical analysis of the portrayal of child abuse in children's literature has not been located in book, dissertation, or research form. This study examines children's literature dealing with child abuse themes using criteria developed by Masha Rudman (1995), based on the work of psychologists, social workers and educators. It analyzes how well the books adhere to the criteria as well as the thematic effectiveness of the books. It looks into who is taking part in the abuse and who is interrupting it. The methodology employed here is a critical multicultural analysis (Botelho, 2004) where personal and societal power are examined as well as how the books handle issues of culture and class. This study provides a foundation for further research in this field as well as providing a resource for teachers, librarians, counselors and families on this topic. I examined in depth eighteen books in which child abuse took a prominent part. The books ranged in age of intended readership from preschool through junior high, with the majority of the books aimed at readers eleven years old and above. My methodology included multiple readings of the eighteen selected texts (originally I read thirty books and culled those that either were not compelling reading, did not address the issue of abuse in a satisfactory manner, or had the potential to broadcast negative elements and harm precisely those children whom we are trying to help). After an intensive analysis of each of the eighteen books sorted into categories of sexual and physical abuse I note patterns of resilience, childhood as a social construction and children's agency. I provide conclusions based on the analyses of the literature, and suggest recommendations for further research. I also include an annotated bibliography of 45 books containing abuse. It is my hope that this study will provide a model for examining any books on abuse for potential use with children.

Subject Area

Language arts

Recommended Citation

Navarro Rios, Albertina, "Child abuse in contemporary children's literature: A critical multicultural analysis" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3216958.