A new study has confirmed that children form fixed ideas, very early on, about the kinds of jobs they will aspire to do in the future.
How do young children decide on a job? It’s not from signing up with a job agency or browsing employment listings.
The study asked children from 7 to 17 years old, from all over the world, to draw a picture of the job they want to do when they grow up, and to explain how they knew about that job.
The survey found that most children choose their dream job based on people they know personally, or on what they see on TV and in other media. It also found they were strongly influenced by gender stereotyping, and limited by the range of people in their own communities. (See more in our article about the study here.)
One way we can expand the range of realistic jobs that children hear about is to read books to them showing the world at work. This is also an important way to combat gender stereotyping.
Here are some titles you might want to order for your centre or home.
Jessica Spanyol’s Clive series is a collection of lovely, warm board books featuring a little boy and his diverse group of friends role-playing various jobs. Check out Clive is a Nurse, Clive is a Librarian, Clive is a Waiter, and Clive is a Teacher.
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have produced a set of three colourful, rhyming, occupation books – and there may be more on the way. The titles are Ada Twist, Scientist, Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Iggy Peck, Architect.
There are lots of books about real-life scientists, inventors, and explorers. Make sure your children have access to books about people of all genders and races doing cool jobs. The Watcher is the story of ape scientist Jane Goodall discovering new things about chimpanzees, and for a lot more ideas, check out this list from A Mighty Girl of picture books about real life women doing amazing things.
How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland, tells the story of all the dozens of people involved in getting a fossilised dinosaur out of the ground and into a museum display. All sorts of specific jobs are described, from the bone-hunter who discovers the dinosaur to the preparators, curators and even welders involved in getting it ready. Men and women with various skin colours do all the different jobs.
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock’s series, Roadworks, Demolition, and Construction, has a wide range of people participating in construction projects. Similarly, Toni Buzzeo and Jim Datz’ board book Whose Tools? shows women and men, with a range of skin tones, doing all sorts of trade jobs to build a house, and accurately describes the tools they use.
Lucy Cousin’s friendly mouse-in-trousers, Maisy, has all sorts of everyday adventures that appeal to young children. Among the career-focused books are titles like Doctor Maisy, Maisy’s Bus, Maisy’s Moon Landing, and Maisy’s Digger – and there are a lot more, too.
The Marble Maker, by Sacha Cotter and Josh Morgan, stars a creative, ambitious inventor (and her lab assistant sheep). Juliana’s Bananas, by Ruth Walton, shows what life is like for a farming family in the Carribean.
In Career Day, by Anne Rockwell, we see a whole classroom of children bring family members into school to talk about what they do. Michiko’s mother writes books for children, Charlie’s mom is a judge, Kate’s dad plays double bass in an orchestra. This is a lovely book full of all kinds of people doing all kinds of jobs, including voluntary roles.
One last one is rather more subtle. In Home, the wonderful artist and writer Carson Ellis takes us on a whimsical tour of all different kinds of homes, some realistic, some fantastical. It’s a glorious book, full of details to spot when rereading, and the punchline is that one of the homes belongs to Carson Ellis herself, and we get to see her in her studio, creating this very book, surrounded by objects that have appeared in its pages. Children often know that ‘illustrator’ is a job, but this makes it much more real. This woman with red hair in plaits makes books! She made this book!
What are your favourite career picture books? Let us know in a comment below, or on our Facebook page. We’re always on the hunt for more titles!