Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Sue Kimmel

Committee Member

Karla Collins

Committee Member

Carol Doll

Committee Member

Yonghee Suh


Background: Given events of recent years like the economic recession, issues related to social class are more important than ever before. Although educational scholars have devoted increasing attention to social class, it has not been widely studied in curricular materials like children's literature. Because books can influence children's views of the world, understanding what values and ideologies are communicated about class in literature is important.

Focus of Study: Grounded in the theoretical perspectives of critical literacy and the sociology of school knowledge, the purpose of this study was to deconstruct portrayals of social class in books earning the Newbery Medal or Honor between 2004 and 2013. Forty-two books comprised the sample. Newbery titles were selected since they are easily accessible to children and used in school settings.

Research Design: The study utilized a flexible design incorporating both the deductive and inductive approaches to qualitative content analysis. In the deductive part of the analysis, references to social class in the books were coded according to portrayals, or "frames," of class identified in prior research. In the inductive part of the analysis, references to class not fitting the frames were analyzed and categorized using the abstraction process to develop new frames.

Findings: Thirty-one frames emerged as ways of portraying characters in the four class groups (upper class, middle class, working class, and poor). While some frames were positive depictions of class groups, some included negative stereotypes. Additionally, working class characters constituted the majority of protagonists in the texts, though they were usually portrayed in historical rather than contemporary settings.

Conclusions: The findings offer a framework for future researchers interested in analyzing portrayals of social class in children's literature, curricular materials, and other media. They also suggest a need for teaching critical literacy skills in K-12 and teacher education settings since some titles included negative framings of class groups. Further, teachers and librarians might use the findings to select books validating the class identities of their students and to offer entryways into discussing issues of class in school settings.