Do you have a vision for the future of children’s literature? Who will be the drivers of change?
Traditionally, in Western children’s literature, the orientation of the narrative has been towards a particular market and used in the teaching of societal constructs, values and understanding of a narrow perspective. My vision for the future of children’s literature is as dynamic and adaptable as the literature itself has become, however, my vision has 4 underpinning truths that I wish for to remain constant. This is to ensure the development of empathy, to expose children and adults alike to a wider range of experiences and to provide opportunities for discussion on these experiences. Children’s literature is not written in a vacuum and the consumerist nature of society has led to market-driven literature, based off a particular populace and not based on being representative of the global. My vision is to compact the market-driven nature and instead form a vision that is championed by all.
Firstly, my vision is Diversity.
Watching the evolution of literature present after the murder of George Floyd and the re-vocalisation of the Black Lives Matter Movement through the online community, I was witnessing the marginalisation of a global community of people. Indigenous People in Australia are sorely under-represented in books; virtually non-existent in the market, the gap between Black Authors to White Authors is mind-boggling and looking at the history of the market focus on white male protagonists demonstrates the lack of role models available or the sense of belonging and self to be found in literature, alongside the lack of empathy being built due to the narrowed perspective of the white world. Bishop (2003), quoted from Short (2018) highlights the rejection of literacy as relevant to those children missing and underrepresented. Hart (2012), again from Short (2018), mentions the lack of representation on book covers due to influence sales to a wider market. That’s appalling, and sadly true. Based on my own experiences as being an active member of the online bookish community, predominantly on YouTube, there has been what feel like an insurgence of black representation on covers and my own curiosity is excited to see the impact this has on the market. The drivers of increasing diversity on the market have been the marginalised community demanding their right to be seen and be heard. Black educators find those rare gems and push them into the hands of younger readers to increase circulation and allow those readers to have more experiences than 10 years ago. These readers are then speaking up. Our world is becoming more interconnected and focusing on all voices, rather than the previous majority. Drivers can, and need to be, white allies that amplify the voices of the marginalised community to say that our vision needs to be more diverse.
Secondly, my vision is Transmutable.
My vision for transmutable texts came from Erica Hateley’s article Reading: From Turning The Page to Touching the Screen (2013). In her conclusion Erica states that “reading is as much a process or a journey as it is an end in itself.” and this is a powerful quote to think of rather than reading being ‘a book’, it can be a morphing and evolving text. The process of reading is one many readers feel connected to on a deep level and it is the journey, the narrative, rather than “reading” that gives the deeper sense of connection. By children’s literature being transmutable, they are able to access rich narratives that can be manipulated, interacted and connected with, in a way that reading a book might elude others. Personally, reading is the act of reading a book, or an e-reader, rather it is the journey of being absorbed into the story and feeling and emphasising with the text. For now, the technology and knowledge isn’t widely available to create books that have those deep-rooted interactive components that add value, rather they copy the book or make a spectacle but lose the message along the way. In time, my vision is that students will be able to engage in reading in a multitude of forms, it will ignite excitement to read and offer students more dynamic ways of interacting with the word and with the world. The idea of ‘multiliteracies’ has always been an interesting component to the ever-expanding narrative of “being literate” but the constant change in the world is allowing for children to branch in creative and unique ways of engaging with literature. There are doors opening for students to find a joy in reading, whether it be physical, digital or interactive, but there is still a way to go.
Thirdly, my vision is Active.
Hilariously, and somewhat ironically, I love reading because it is a task done in solitude. The time of being alone and having my book to curl up and enjoy is honestly one of my favourite feelings, however, that is not my vision for children’s literature. I want children to be able to have a safe place they can turn to and enjoy but I want their texts, their literature to be a force. Children’s literature is historically written in a way to provide moral direction, or a lesson of some form to the reader, whether it be child or adult. My vision for children’s literature is to expand and grow to tackle and take an active step to deconstructing negative stereotypes, address active global concerns and actively demonstrate the global community as a whole. My vision is that everyone is able to take an active step when reading and when engaging with texts, whatever form they may take and my vision is for any reader to actively grow in themselves. Activity also comes from parental figures engaging with texts on a more critical level than just reading allowed every day. Using our transmutable texts, adults would be able to provide a different form of literary analysis with their children.
There is also the sub-component of activeness being in the form of interactivity as well, but that was addressed in Transmutable.
Fourthly, my vision is Communal.
The final component to my vision is reading being communal. First and foremost, the importance of a parental figure reading consistently to their child cannot be understated. The love of reading and the importance of reading formed organically is best started in the home. Furthermore, the importance of reading and engaging with children’s literature needs to be more communal. From personal experience, many schools have decided to approach their libraries as a “digital hub”, which is great for providing computer-literacy skills, but not necessarily engaging with online reading or interactive digital reading. Schools, the community, the government, need to have more of my vision for children’s literature to press the importance and give libraries the space to be a conduit for both aspects. One person that I adore that is creating stronger threads in the global community is Gavin Hetherington from the YouTube channel How To Train Your Gavin. He conducts online interviews with middle grade authors and champions their stories to as many voices as he can. He supports both school libraries and public to increase the amount of middle grades on their shelves and it’s an inspiration to see a writer/book seller tackle this communal nature of reading and engaging with stories. Having a communal reading space, online or physically can be a great way to engage many children with all forms of literature, increase their social networking skills and make reading the wider community, rather than being a task of solitude.