One of our authors, Deborah Katz, just won the 2018 Vine Award in the children’s literature category for her picture book, Rare Is Everywhere, which takes readers on a journey through the animal kingdom, revealing that grasshoppers can be pink, tigers can be white, and lobsters can be blue. Showcasing eleven incredible animals through vibrant illustrations and playful poetry, Deborah’s goal was to blend science with art to encourage children to recognize and accept diversity in themselves and in others. No small feat! As her editors, we knew that if Deborah was going to use science to communicate that uniqueness is something to be celebrated, it had better be right.
Is scientific accuracy really important in children’s books? In award-winning kidlit and YA author Clair Eamer’s recent article, “Storybook Whale Fail,” she argues a resounding yes. Eamer states that scientific inaccuracies in kids’ books “can lead to misinformation that lingers long past childhood.” So why is that? Well, we know from experience that children don't think of characters or settings in picture books as being invented; rather, they accept and take what they read as part of their world. In other words, young children take books at face value, and they place their trust and faith in writers and illustrators as conveyors of truth.
Does that mean kids’ books can only be approached with 100% accuracy? Of course not. There’s plenty of room for playfulness in a book, just as there is in the telling of a good story. Young readers can go along with a little stretching of the truth, as long as they realize they are in on the joke. For example, can llamas wear pajamas? Sure – in a silly story and in our imaginations they can, as long as the pajamas add humour to the situation. But, if you’re an author writing a book about how the people of the Andes use llamas as pack animals like camels, they likely wouldn’t be wearing pajamas, nor would they have humps.
When writing for children, authors have a responsibility to be both engaging and, through careful research, truthful – the story and illustrations should be fundamentally based on scientific accuracy. Honour that principle, and you’ll not only earn happy readers and positive reviews, you just might find yourself on an award podium too!