Responding to concerns that engineering is a poorly understood occupation and that young people are exposed to stereotyped images of scientists and engineers at an early age, this investigation sought to identify how science and engineering is portrayed in contemporary junior fiction (ages 8–12) and to what extent. An examination of 4,800 junior fiction titles in one region in New South Wales, Australia, identified as few as 71 titles that addressed themes related to engineering and the sciences. While the crazy, nerdy, scientific stereotype exists in these stories, mostly in humorous vein, we found that fictional characters were split between the nerdy, eccentric, and the more serious and professional types who were depicted as more popular. The emphasis was on male characters, but not exclusively so. There were limited details that could be associated with engineering. Where building, making, and working with machines featured, they were depicted as male activity and primarily connected to vehicles, mostly cars. We concluded that while young people, particularly girls, were unlikely to gain accurate or compelling images about engineering as an occupation from this source at present, as a medium for informing the young and their parents, the potential of fiction was considerable.
International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education Vol. 7, Issue 4, p. 723-740