why is the study of literature important for children? ETL402 reflection

Attempting to reflect on a heavy reading load and two very challenging pieces of assessment, I find two significant ideas in particular will remain with me from this summer semester course, ETL402 Literature Across the Curriculum:

  1. the power of stories
  2. the importance of the transaction between reader and text

Haven’s (2007) evidence for the importance of story, story reading, and storytelling and its impact on the brain development and education of children, reinforced for me the imperative that the role of the Teacher Librarian in schools must be maintained and embellished. Story is an essential element of education – narrative structure is a powerful inquiry that opens up an important relationship between the role of the Teacher Librarian and the students within their school, and the possibilities of significant collaborations with teaching staff from all key learning areas – based around quality literature.

This revelation was then deepened by an exploration into the values of children’s literature:

  • literature develops social awareness – it can highlight important social and moral concerns (Harris, 1990)
  • literature offers vicarious experiences – it helps children deal with their problems
  • literature reinforces the narrative as a way of thinking (Huck, Hepler, Hickman, & Kiefer, 1976)
  • literature develops the imagination (Gaiman, 2013)
  • literature reveals literary and artistic preferences – picturebooks develop visual literacy – the power of the postmodern picturebook
  • literature provides reading for background knowledge in curricular areas
  • literature develops thinking skills

The power behind this understanding is that stories are a better (more effective and efficient) way to teach and to communicate (Haven, 2007). The bottom line here is that stories are remembered – they are a more efficient and more accurate way to support and sustain learning with a higher accuracy in recall (Haven, 2007). Better than any other way! This transaction between reader and text provides a new and powerful experience in life (Rosenblatt, 1956).

Returning to the blog posts that I have written in this course:

reminds me of just how much work is involved in getting to know our library collection and using it to support learning in my school through collaboration with classroom teachers. This is an ongoing challenge and requires diligent effort.

Also, an assumption hidden in the Marcoux and Loertscher reading (Marcoux & Loertscher, 2009) that “all Pre-K-12 classroom teachers are knowledgeable in building reading skills” made me pause for consideration. It is my view that many faculty areas do not actively participate in engaging students in reading and are unaware of the missed opportunity that lies hidden within the focus of the second assignment – the power of literary learning. The continued preoccupation with marching through a content dense curriculum without a focus on powerful and engaging literature, in a wide variety of formats and delivery methods, is a significant missed opportunity for engagement with our students.

I found the readings on Digital Literature of particular interest as we begin the 2016 school year. Budget decisions as we juggle the provision of literature in print and digital formats must be patron driven, and I continue to question the cost vs benefit of establishing eBook platforms. The challenge also continues to clarify the role of the Teacher Librarian in the acquisition of new literacies particular to the networked, hyperlinked and interactive model of communication and information transmission, and the trends in interactive media (Friedlander, 2013).

Looking forward into the 2016 school year and beyond, another challenge emerges as this course concludes… convincing staff from all curriculums that the literature we invest in has significant potential for learning in their key learning area, and student engagement, support of adolescent reading skills, development of thinking skills, use of technology for learning… and so much more… can be incorporated into literary learning if they are willing to give it a try.



Friedlander, A. (November 26, 2013) Ten trends in interactive media for children from dust or Magic, Retrieved from http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/ten-trends-in-interactive-media-for-children-from-dust-or-magic/

Gaiman, N. (2013, Oct 16). Why our futures depend on libraries, reading, and imagination. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

Harris, V.J. (1990) Benefits of Children’s Literature. In The Journal of Negro Education. Vol. 59, No. 4 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 538-539

Haven, K. F. (2007). Story proof: the science behind the startling power of story. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

Hogg, D. (2015a) Who will be the drivers of change? [online] Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/debhoggoz/2015/11/10/who-will-be-the-drivers-of-change/

Hogg, D. (2015b) Key elements of children’s literature. [online] Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/debhoggoz/2015/11/29/key-elements-of-childrens-literature/

Hogg, D. (2015c)  Evaluating the quality of children’s literature. [online] Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/debhoggoz/2016/01/10/evaluating-the-quality-of-childrens-literature/

Hogg, D. (2015d) Digging deep into the picturebook collection. [online] Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/debhoggoz/2016/01/20/digging-deep-into-the-picturebook-collection/

Huck, C. S., Hepler, S. I., Hickman, J., & Kiefer, B. Z. (1976). Children’s literature in the elementary world. Harcourt: Brace, Jovanovich.

Marcoux, E., & Loertscher, D. V. (2009). The role of a school library in a school’s reading program. Teacher Librarian, 37(1), 8–14,84.

Rosenblatt, L.M. (1956) “The Acid Test for Literature Teaching.” English Journal Vol. 45 No.2 (1956), pp. 66–74.

Digging deep into the picturebook collection…

Voices in the parkThe first assignment for ETL402 – a rationale for school/library fiction collections in the form of a journal article – was a significant challenge… huge! Sure it was the time frame – getting the learning modules completed at the end of the year spent in a new school, juggling both the Teacher Librarian and Computer Coordinator roles, planning for Christmas… stress and exhaustion had taken its toll… but it was much more than these factors that pushed down on getting this assignment finished and submitted. This assignment resolved itself into a difficult question – how well do you know your Picturebook Collection and does it have a place in a high school library? To be honest I ended up spending more time on that question than the assignment.

In the three years of being in school libraries, I must admit I have developed a bit of a soft spot where the Picturebooks are concerned. I’d found myself falling in love with these books, their authors and illustrators, and wishing hard that high school teachers would make more use of them in their classrooms – so they seemed the obvious choice for this assignment.

This might sound strange to all those who dismiss the Picturebook format as something that should be confined to the early childhood reading experience, but in the last three years I had come to realise how much the titles in this format had expanded beyond early readers and how many of these books were pitched at the middle school and young adult market… and how inviting these books were to me as a reader.

Therefore, this assignment became an opportunity to explore this section of our school library collection and wrestle with what was there… and what wasn’t there… as we make plans for the new school year and allocate budget to potential purchases. This assignment also saw me off on many sidetrack adventures as I explored the significant contributions of particular authors and illustrators, and researched the breadth and depths of their individual bodies of work in this format. I found myself coming face to face with amazingly beautiful as well as dreadfully scary images that inhabit these books and a developing appreciation for the skill required to write, draw and produce these titles.

In particular I was down rabbit holes with Gary Crew, Margaret Wild and Anthony Browne …and then the amazing range of books designated as “sophisticated”.

The counterpoint between text and image led me to explore two particularly interesting features of many post-modern picturebooks – metafiction and intertextuality.Stinky Cheese Man


The notion of destroying the illusion of a “reality” and substituting an emphasis on the book’s “fictionality” (Nikolajeva & Scott, 2006) is a feature that can lead to all manner of creativity in student writing. An excellent example of these books are those of Jon Scieszka http://www.jsworldwide.com/ . The best known of Scieszka’s books, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), illustrated by Lane Smith, explores a metanarrative – the narrator appears in both the pictures and as one of the characters in the story, providing a running commentary.


Intertextuality refers to the incorporation of all kinds of links between two or more texts utilising tools like parody, irony, literary and extra-literary allusions, direct quotations or indirect references to previous texts, fracturing of well-known patterns, and so on. Intertextuality assumes the reader’s active participation in the process of decoding the text when reading. It is the reader who makes the intertextual connections. In particular, this led me to explore picturebooks from different cultures and the opportunities that they provide to learn about cultural differences exposed in these texts.

The picturebook format certainly has a lot to offer the high school classroom teacher – hopefully I have built a sufficiently strong argument to that effect in Assignment 1.


Nikolajeva, & Scott, C. (2006) How picturebooks work. New York : Taylor and Francis


Evaluating the quality of children’s literature

Reference: Rothlein, L. (1991). The literature connection: using children’s books in the classroom. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman.

Picture Bookswordle7

  • Do the pictures extend the text rather than conflict with it?
  • Are the pictures clear and easily distinguishable? Are extraneous details avoided?
  • Do the illustrations enhance the setting, plot, mood, and characterizations?
  • Will children be able to identify with the characters and the action?
  • Are the style and language appropriate for young children?
  • Do the illustrations avoid stereotypes?
  • Is the theme significant?
  • Is the concept or theme appropriate for young children?
  • Have a variety of books been chosen to reflect multicultural awareness?
  • Have books been chosen that reflect a variety of genres?

Modern Fantasy

  • Is the setting authentic and integral to the story?
  • Is the language appropriate and consistent? Does it add credibility to the fantasy?
  • Is the plot creative, believable, and ingenious?
  • Does the story blend fantasy with reality, making that which is impossible seem possible?
  • Are the details consistent with the plot, setting, characters, and viewpoint?
  • Is the element of time authentically represented?
  • Are the details so vivid that the reader becomes one with the story?
  • Are emotions conveyed honestly? Is the human condition portrayed honestly?
  • Is the reader led into new insights and understandings? Does the story contain worthwhile themes?
  • Does the story contain worthwhile themes?
  • In works of science fiction, does the story contain scientific laws, principles, and technology that give plausibility to the situations and solutions?


  • Are sensory images of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touching created?
  • Does the poem contain figurative and alliterative language?
  • Is adequate and interesting repetition provided?
  • Does the poem flow in a natural and rhythmic manner?
  • Is the language and speech appropriate for the child’s understanding?
  • Are the words manipulated in an appealing manner to contribute to the meaning of poem?
  • Does the poem appeal appropriately to a child’s emotions?
  • Does the poem appeal to a child’s sense of humor?
  • Is there a quality of imagination so a child perceives something in a new way?
  • Does the poem have a purpose?

Realistic Fiction

  • Can the child identify and relate to the characters or situation as portrayed in the text and illustrations?
  • Is the content presented honestly and realistically?
  • Does the child have an opportunity to gain insights and understanding into problems and situations?
  • Are a variety of cultures and lifestyles represented?
  • Are the characters and actions plausible?
  • Is there a hopeful, positive, and mature approach for dealing with a problem or situation?
  • Is there enough information to allow the child to draw his or her own conclusion?

Historical Fiction

  • Are past events depicted accurately and authentically?
  • Are the details of the times portrayed accurately and authentically?
  • Do the characters reflect the values of the times?
  • Is the plot consistent with the times?
  • Is the language appropriate to the times, yet interesting to present-day readers?
  • Does the theme provide insight into and understanding of past events?
  • Does the story provide a perspective of the way in which the past affects the present and the future?
  • Are fact and fiction blended in an interesting manner?
  • Is the past brought to life?

Key elements of children’s literature

Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Children%27s_literature/Selected_picture

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

  • Literature written, usually by adults, and widely read by children and adolescents.
  • Narrative voice designed to target an audience of children or young adults. Developmentally appropriate – reading level, vocabulary, maturity level and cognitive pitch.
  • Can include novels, poetry (lyrical style), drama, biographies, autobiographies, short stories and essays.
  • Can be read, performed or incorporate multimodal delivery.
  • Can be in different formats such as picture books, novels, bridging books, ebooks and digital books – using a wide variety of literary devices and technology tools.
  • Often written to explore a moral concept, cultural theme or introduce new ideas.
  • Themes are often fanciful – not confined by reality – inspiration for the imagination – empowerment
  • Often influenced by how childhood is perceived by society or the dominant culture – therefore it can depict the prevailing times and attitudes.
  • Holds a memory place in people’s minds – connect adults to their childhood and the books that helped to shape them or connect them to specific memories.
  • Allows children to explore different cultures, times and ideas.
  • Influenced by the stakeholders – the industry of children’s literature. Authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, reviewers, critics, teachers, parents… and the audience i.e. children
  • Is linked to how we view childhood – can provide insight into historical approaches to children.
  • Exposure should be diverse and high quality – not prescribed by adults.
  • No guarantees about engagement for particular children – one child may engage completely while another will not engage at all. e.g. Harry Potter obsession
  • Should never forget to aim for being read for pleasure and enjoyment by children.
  • Tool for learning about literary devices.
  • Means to explore identity – to learn from – to discover.
  • Children’s literature can often be seen to have to be approved by adults for children to be able to access it… until they decide to enter a library on their own.


Edit: December 6, 2015

After reflecting on these key elements, and trying to understand the impact of children’s books being written by adults, then the importance of the role of narrative and storytelling as ways for children to make sense of their world becomes clear. Attempting to understand the role of books, and other things, as cultural tools – reflecting the differences in ‘childhood’ for those growing up in the USA vs Afghanistan (an exaggerated view). It becomes so important to me to ensure that when we choose what stories to give our children access to, that we take into consideration the kind of childhood that is revealed in those stories so that the reader can relate to the stories (Smidt, 2012). How we then intertwine access to children’s literature that is deemed to be “important” for educational purposes does provide the Teacher Librarian some challenges when collaborating with teaching staff. There is much to consider here… with the other persistent challenge continuing – how does the Teacher Librarian get involved in these decisions regarding providing access to books across the curriculum outcomes?


Smidt, S. (2012) Reading the world – what young children learn from literature Trentham Books Ltd : Stoke on Trent