60 Years of Quebec’s society in textbook Illustration

Is textbook illustration in Quebec representative of the diversity and gender equality in Quebec’s society?

Multiculturalism and gender equality in Canadian society, especially in the Province of Québec (which receives thousands of new immigrants every year), are important characteristics of the country and often associated with the country's fundamental values. In the words of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "Diversity is the strength of Canada". According to Rudine S. Bishop (1990), when children belonging to minorities groups do not see themselves represented in the books they read, this tells them that their role in society is not of great value. In the same way, children of dominant groups end up seeing in the books a distorted world in which only they exist and are valued. In this context, it is necessary to investigate whether these values (of diversity and gender equality) are properly represented in illustrations in textbooks for elementary school children.

This research-creation project investigates how diversity and gender equality have been represented in textbook illustrations in the Canadian province of Québec. It will focus mainly in the past 60 years, when the province had one of its most significant cultural shifts, starting in the 1960s and 1970s, a period known as the Quiet Revolution. The objective of this investigation is to see how cultural shifts can be perceived in the form of visuals intended for elementary school children and how they work as a window to the understanding of a changing society. Representation, feminism, immigration, tolerance and acceptance are recurrent themes discussed in this project.

For this project, several books from the National Archives have been analyzed. For this particular project, the investigation focused on books written in French (considering that this is the official language of the province) and belonging to the disciplines of History and Mathematics (due to their different approach in using illustrations).The collection and analysis of these illustrations will be transformed into a mini-documentary that intends to start a debate on the importance of a seemingly banal object like the textbook, how it can be an important resource in social transformation.

Also, this project aims to bring the discussion of the use of illustration for educational purposes to the field of Design. A recent surge in research papers that debate the importance of diverse literature and textbooks for children shows an increasing interest in the topic. However, the scholars writing those papers belong to the fields of the social sciences, child psychology and pedagogy, but not to design.

This project advocates for designers’ active participation in building knowledge about diversity in children’s literature and textbook illustration. Considering how designers have an active role in the production of books and how papers analyzing diversity children’s book may at some point critique the outcome of graphic designers’ and illustrators’ work, research from a design perspective becomes necessary.