A Caldecott award for "picture books for children" is signified by a gold medal on a book jacket (silver for honorable mentions). The award is named for English artist Randolph Caldecott.
In an interview last week, Crabb said that when he began the study, released this month, he expected that the illustrations would portray a changing society. He said he was surprised, however, when his analysis revealed no change over the last 50 years.
"That's the startling thing," said Crabb. "In recent years, there wasn't even a woman driving a car or a bus."
The Chicago-based American Library Association's Association for Library Service to Children, which awards the annual honor, maintains that Crabb's research is flawed and that the Caldecott series was not a good choice for the study.
"Crabb seems to think that Caldecott books are for preschool children," said Steven Herb, an educational librarian at Penn State's University Park campus who has served as a Caldecott judge.
"Caldecott books are for anyone birth to age 14 and have appeal to adults as well," Herb said. In analyzing the illustrations, he said, "when you're not quite sure of the target group, you begin with a major problem."
Moreover, some of the Caldecott books are based on folk tales, he said. ''You're looking at stories with modern pictures that tell an old tale. You can't have Red Riding Hood in a welder's helmet. Crabb would have been better off sampling a range of books from a given year."
Caldecott Medal-winning titles include such beloved favorites as Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day (1963) and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (1964). The most recent Caldecott winner, Mirrette on the High Wire, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, was not included in the study. Mirrette is set in France in the 1890s.
Crabb, 39, said he did not set out to slam Caldecott books. He said he noticed his friends' sons playing with trucks and daughters playing with kitchen toys, and wondered what was reinforcing this behavior.
"My purpose was to discover whether somewhere in our culture there is a concrete example of people linking gender with technology," he said. Crabb's use of the term technology was broad and included tools, appliances - any object created to produce a desired effect, he said.
"I assumed one place to start was to look at what is going on in children's literature, how males and females are portrayed," he said.
"We figured Caldecott books would be representative of what kids read," he said. "People believe they are really top-rate books. They wouldn't have a gold star if they weren't!"
To conduct the research, two female adult students were given illustrations
from 220 Caldecott award-winning and honorable-mention books published from 1938 to 1989. The students, who did not know what the study was about or where the pictures were from, rated the illustrations based on who was using ''household artifacts" or "production artifacts."
Crabb found that 77 percent of the female characters were portrayed using household items and 80 percent of the males were shown working outside the home. Animal illustrations were included when the animals were obviously male or female.
Crabb's study, due to be published this spring in the psychological journal Sex Roles, found no difference in whether a male or female did the illustration. "Both were prone to using gender-typed pictures," he said.
"Here is evidence that, in fact, people - at least illustrators - think about 'technology' as linked to females or males," said Crabb. "We know that little boys and girls tend to imitate adults of the same gender. Studies have shown a little girl will think she is supposed to be more interested in a vacuum cleaner than a dump truck or lawn mower. They are already differentiating between technology."
Crabb said that other children's books might better reflect society today. ''They don't get medals," he said.