Boot France and Italy Out of Kids’ Books

Background image credit: Worldmapper. Graphic: Paradox Background image credit: Worldmapper. Graphic: Paradox

By ZACH NOBLE

Children’s books are giving kids a terrible idea of what the world looks like.

I was hanging out at a baby store last weekend with my sweaty 5-month-old daughter, because fatherhood has robbed me of all adult pleasures, and I saw a book that made me really mad.

It was cutesy: short on words, big on illustrations that were supposed to indicate the magical places you were seeing. Promising a trip around the world, its pages contained:

  • England
  • France
  • Italy
  • Russia
  • The Middle East, or maybe India, someplace with mosques
  • East Asia
  • Australia

As far as a trip around the world goes, that one’s terrible — but typical. Every kids’ illustrator seems determined to fit in the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and some kangaroos, whether that leaves kids with an accurate impression of the world or not.

(It does not.)

When it comes to teaching American kids history, a healthy dose of Eurocentrism is justified. Our country was founded by Europeans and is only just now making a demographic shift to become majority non-white. Much of US history is tied up with the European empires we rebelled, competed and fought against.

But Europe is not the whole world, and it’s getting less representative of the world every day.

In 1900, there were roughly 1.5 billion people on the planet. About one-quarter of them were Europeans, and most of the rest had been colonized by Europeans. Germany and England were two of the biggest countries on the globe.

World population comparison in 1900. (Credit: Worldmapper) World population comparison in 1900. (Credit: Worldmapper)

But then the European nations killed each other a whole lot in World War I. Then they did it again in World War II.

And then Europe lost its religion and women stopped having babies.

So today only 10 percent of the world’s population lives in Europe.

By 2050, the United Nations projects Europeans will make up 7 percent of a 10-billion-strong global population, and one-third of those Europeans will be more than 60 years old.

Europe is dying.

World population comparison projection for 2050. (Credit: Worldmapper) World population comparison projection for 2050. (Credit: Worldmapper)

Kids books should paint children a truer picture of the world’s people.

To aspiring authors: England, France, Italy and Russia are yesterday’s stories. They’re lazy clichés to illustrate.

Please teach kids the difference between Nigeria (which alone has more people than Italy, France and England combined) and Ethiopia (which has more people than Germany).

Explore the rich history and many languages of India.

Spend time in Bangladesh, a country that is small on the map but has more people living in its borders than live in all of Russia.

Otherwise you’re not taking kids on a picture-book trip around the living, growing world. You’re just showing them around a morgue.

Zach Noble is a journalist who has covered everything from the OPM hack to a rescue dog’s retirement party. He’s been wrestling to reconcile his bleeding heart Catholicism with his pragmatic libertarianism since that freshman year love affair with Ayn Rand. He tweets erratically as @thezachnoble.

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