Plants in Scandinavian picturebooks for children from 1900 to 2020


The project «Plants in Scandinavian picture books for children from 1900 to 2020» seeks to document and survey how plants are represented in Scandinavian picture books from 1900 until today. By examining to what extent, and in what manner Norwegian, Swedish and Danish picture books display plants, the project aims to generate new knowledge about the role and status of plants in Scandinavian children’s literature. The main objectives are to establish an historical overview of the frequency and function of plant motifs in Scandinavian picturebooks, and to make this survey accessible for researchers, students, and others through a searchable database.

Even though most of us are surrounded by plants in our daily lives and plants are fundamental to human existence, western culture seem to uffer from «plant blindness» (Wandersee and Schlusser 1999, 84). While representations of animals in literature and other cultural texts have been given considerable attention in recent years, not least within ecocritical approaches to children’s literature, plants are still to a large extent perceived as background, environment or metaphor for human action and behavior (Garrard 2012, 52). As Melanie Duckworth and Lykke Guanio-Uluru and notes, plants are also underrepresented in scientific studies on children’s and young adult literature (2021, 6). Thus, the project aims to make the presence of plants more visible, both in Scandinavian picture books as such and within the research on children’s literature in general.

Inspired by ecocritical research on children’s literature in general and more specifically the emerging field of critical plant studies, «Plants in Scandinavian picture books for children from 1900 to 2020» seeks to answer the following overarching question:

How are plants represented in Scandinavian picture books for children from 1900 to today, and what attitudes and norms related to the status, role and agency of children and plants can be found in the material?

Through the survey we seek to investigate several more specific research questions, such as:

  • In what types of environments do the plants emerge?
  • To what extent is a specific Nordic flora portrayed?
  • Are plants primarily represented as a backdrop of human action, or do they appear in the foreground of images and text?
  • How are the representations of plants distributed between text and image?
  • To what extent are plants portrayed as agents, and do such active capacities appear as specific to the plants, or as a reflection of human characteristics or needs?
  • Can anthropocentric and/or ecocentric tendencies be found?
  • Do the books contribute strategies for a more sustainable and equal relationship between plants and human beings, and what role are children given in such scenarios?

Duckworth, Melanie og Lykke Guanio-Uluru. 2021. Plants in children’s and young adult literature (Perspectives on the non-human in literature and culture). London: Routledge.

Garrard, Greg. 2012. Ecocriticism. 2. oppl. The New Critical Idiom. London: Routledge.

Wandersee, James H. og Schussler, Elisabeth E. 1999. «Preventing Plant Blindness» The American Biology Teacher 61, no. 2 (1999).

Other relevant sources: 

Goga, N. (2020). Økokritiske perspektiv på representasjoner av skog i skandinavisk barnelitteratur. Svensklärarföreningens Årsskrift 2019, 113-129.

Goga, N. (2019). Økokritiske litteratursamtaler. En arena for økt bevissthet om økologisk samspill? Acta Didactica 13(2).

Goga, N. (2017). I begynnelsen var treet. Økokritisk lesning av omformingen fra et stykke tre til gutt i Carlo Collodis Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino (1883). Nordic Journal of ChildLit Aesthetics, Vol. 8.

Guanio-UluruL. (2019). Imagining Climate Change: The Representation of Plants in Three Nordic Climate Fictions for Young Adults. Children’s Literature in Education, Springer online.

Guanio-UluruL. (2018). Plant-Human Hybridity in the Story World of Kubbe. In Ecocritical Perspectives on Children’s Texts and Cultures: Nordic Dialogues. Goga, N., Nyrnes, A. Guanio-Uluru, L. & B. O. Hallås (Eds.). (2018). Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 125-140

Guanio-UluruL. (2015). Ethics and Form in Fantasy Literature: Tolkien, Rowling and Meyer. London, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, in particular pp. 60-64.

Skyggebjerg, A. K. (2018). Poetic constructions of nature : the forest in recent visual poetry for children. I N. Goga, L. Guanio-Uluru, B. O. Hallås & A. Nyrnes (Eds.), Ecocritical Perspectives on Children’s Texts and Cultures: Nordic Dialogues (s. 141-155). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan UK.