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Rachel Franz

Environmental studies major, children's literature critic

Rachel Franz

Rachel Franz has read more than her share of books to young children working as a babysitter and nanny. It didn’t take long for the environmental studies major to notice a disturbing trend: continual reinforcement of materialistic behavior and consumerism.

Franz decided to write her senior thesis on the subject with one primary question in mind: “How do children’s picture books potentially deter or reinforce materialistic values and consumer culture?” She revealed her findings – among the first to focus on the role of children’s literature in shaping material and consumer values – in her Honors College senior thesis, “Cultivating Little Consumers: How Picture Books Influence Materialism in Children.”

Her method ...

Franz created a comprehensive and unique coding system that identified 50 indicators across 10 categories representing different ways in which picture books can promote and discourage the consumer socialization of readers. Indicators of consumerism or counter-consumerism were measured across five themes: individual material orientation, interpersonal material orientation, social norms, commercialization and environmental messages.

“I read three or four books a night as a babysitter and started noticing how much greed there was in children’s books and became deeply concerned,” says Franz, who is double-minoring in studio arts and green building and community design. “I realized how damaging consumerism is to the environment and tied that to my love of children. This study was an attempt to reconcile the two.”

"I know I’ll never read a book the same way again."

Franz, who based her results on a content analysis of 30 picture books written between 1998 and 2012 from a list of Caldecott Medal Winners, New York Times bestsellers and librarian recommended books, found that picture books reflect, reinforce, and deter consumerism simultaneously with environmental messages serving as the most frequent way to counter consumerism.

“Rachel took on an ambitious capstone research project that required great persistence in the design phase,” says Stephanie Kaza, Franz’s adviser and director of the Environmental Program. “Her thoughtful and meticulous analysis reveals important findings on the specific nature of consumer messages in children’s literature. Perhaps her greatest triumph was sticking it out through the many challenging phases of such a major piece of independent work.”