The implications of using digital literature in a secondary schools

Read this! 

Change is inevitable and society has seen great changes to the way it functions.  The current technology revolution has changed the way people earn, communicate, work, live, study and recreate.  According to Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory, reading and learning work symbiotically together with strong influences from language and technology (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).  Therefore by this theory, changes in technology resonates how learning, language and literacy manifests in communities.  This is evident in the way the definition of literacy has expanded.  Previously the term ‘literate’ was used to describe individuals who were able to read and write.  But the current definition includes the skills and knowledge required to access, use, understand and express ideas, thoughts and feelings, across multiple modalities, and in all contexts of life (ACARA, 2014).  The broadening of the definition is directly related to the evolving nature of technology and its impact upon the way literature and books are read, comprehended and evaluated (Sargeant, 2015; Jabr, 2015). 

sik-life / Pixabay – The metamorphsis of the book

The concept of the book changes with every technology revolution and corresponding societal change.  From prehistoric stone tablets, to Ancient Egyptian papyrus and Roman vellum scrolls, to the innovative Gutenberg printing press, books have evolved with technology, and at each transformation, the reading paradigm changes (Mangen, Walgermo & Bronnick, 2013).  The modern definition of a book can include the traditional paper form, as well as electronic versions that can be read on devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops along with audiobooks, online books, and other digital products such as applications and websites (Springen, 2010).  This emergence of these new digital texts require additional skills and strategies in order for the reader to comprehend the narrative (Jabr, 2015; Mangen et al., 2013; Sekeres & Watson, 2011).  As part of evidence based practice, secondary school teachers are encouraged to adapt their pedagogical practices to address these technological and societal changes to ensure that their students possess the relevant skills and strategies to become active participants in society.  

geralt / Pixabay – A is for Apple, B is for Ball…

 

Reading has often been characterised as the product of an individual’s ability to decode and comprehend the text and is viewed as a fundamental human skill (Moore & Cahill, 2016, p.4). Engagement in reading is linked to improved student learning and long term academic success (Moore & Cahill, 2016; Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018). Unfortunately many teenagers and young adults are reluctant to read and this reluctance can impact their education as well as their social capital and identity formation (Moore & Cahill, 2016).  Many education departments across the world have increased funding for technology in schools to boost literacy and reading rates in an effort to halt declining literacy (Keen, 2016).  In turn, educators seek to identify pedagogical practices that will increase student motivation for reading and in turn, improve overall literacy.    

Technology has been often cited for its ability to improve educational outcomes due to its engaging format.  Morris & Cahill (2016) has determined that technology has a stronger preference in secondary compared to primary aged students.  Since motivation to read and cognitive experiences when reading works via a positive feedback mechanism, it makes sense that digital literature should lead to increased reading rates and improved literacy (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).  Furthermore, Taylor (2018) suggests that the complex nature of digital storytelling is suitable for teenagers as they are familiar with using devices and are comfortable switching between screens and print.  

janeb13 / Pixabay – Portability of Ebooks

Technology in literature, also known as digital literature, encompasses ebooks, audiobooks, interactive media and mobile applications.  Each of these technologies, delivers narratives in their own individual way and requires a variety of skills and strategies for decoding and comprehension. Many teachers and teacher librarians are tasked with identifying technology based literature in an effort to increase engagement and improve educational outcomes.  

Sargeant (2015) defines an ebook as the static digitised version of a print text with its familiar features of virtual pages, book gutters and page turning animation.  Access to ebooks can occur both onsite and offsite as they can be retrieved and delivered digitally to mobile devices with embedded features (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).  Examples include Kindle application, where ebooks purchased from Amazon can be accessed through, or BorrowBox and Wheelers, that allow for borrowing of titles and are often affiliated with public and school libraries.  Some ebooks for older readers have various levels of interactivity, such as hyperlinks and in built media are commonly found in secondary expository or information texts such as text books (Sargeant, 2015).   Their increased popularity with older readers is due to portability and ability to retain text anonymity (Dickenson, 2014).  But ebooks that are designed for younger and less literate readers have lower levels of interactivity and contain more skeuomorphic features to reduce distraction from the main point (Sargeant, 2015) . 

Jeon (2012) promotes the use of ebooks in schools as they support academic instruction, are time efficient as well as provide a dynamic and cost effective way of managing a collection. Ebooks can also be integrated into library management systems and thus are available for to be borrowed by students at any time, including in times of pandemics and forced isolation (Jeon, 2012).  These apps are designed to assist readers in retaining anonymity in title choice, as well as allow access to a wide range of reading levels which encourages independent reading and promotes bibliotherapy (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).  

DariuszSankowski / Pixabay – Bibliotherapy

 

Audiobooks are increasing in popularity with readers from all generations (Moore & Cahill, 2016).  The most prevalent use of audiobooks in schools are, students with low literacy and learning difficulties as well as second language learners (Moore & Cahill, 2016, p.5).   Hiebert, as cited in Moore & Cahill (2016) argued that language and the fundamentals of narratives can be conveyed through auditory processes, as language-comprehension system in the brain permits text engagement and comprehension (p.3-4).  Other benefits to the implementation of audiobooks in teaching and learning processes include, improving vocabulary, promoting oral language, as well as strengthening links between oral and written literacies (Moore & Cahill, 2016, p.4).  Audiobooks can be easily accessed on personal devices and offer the same level of anonymity as achieved by ebooks.  Anonymity is very important in secondary schools, particularly for students with low literacy who need to access ‘different’ texts (Dickenson, 2014). 

sindrehsoereide / Pixabay – Listening = Reading

Whilst there are many different reasons why students struggle to read, the most common reasons in secondary schools include, insufficient vocabulary, incorrect decoding and a lack of fluency (Moore & Cahill, 2016, p.5).   Access to audiobooks allows students who struggle with the aforementioned inadequacies to engage with the text and develop their reading accuracy as well as potentially improving any behavioural management that arises from disengagement and disenfranchisement (Moore & Cahill, 2016, p.6).  Audiobooks address these needs and therefore it is possible to surmise that this technology is able to provide the reader the same rich experience that is afforded by print text.  

472301 / Pixabay – Mobile applications

 

Interactive media (IM) has exploded in recent years and this is impacting teaching and learning (Cullen, 2015).  Some examples of interactive media include digital books, online books, book applications and websites.  Lamb & Johnson (2010) argue that IM causes readers to shift from being passive receivers to active participants.  This is because IM is able to engage students in the content via multiple entry points and therefore encourages learning through experience and experimentation (Lamb & Johnson, 2010; Cullen, 2015).  IM narratives are able to tell dual stories, as well as bring the images to life whilst providing a brilliant way to connect emerging technologies to the curriculum (Cullen, 2015; Taylor, 2018).  

One example of IM are book applications (apps).  Book apps are software programs that are designed to engage students by delivering high levels of interactive media rich content (Sargeant, 2015).   They integrate multiple modes of communication so that the text and visuals are fused to create a story that requires the reader to transform into a user by their interaction in the narrative with a touch screen (Sargeant, 2015).  This process of action and outcome is based upon gamification principles already present in the rewards based system currently practiced across most school systems.  Gamification uses extrinsic motivation  in learning and teaching practice.  But Briggs (2016) cautions the use of gamification in assessment.  The reason for this caution is that the motivation to succeed arises from the low personal stakes the reader has with the text, as well as the elusive but reachable goals. 

 IM has the capacity to cater to the needs of a varied classroom because of a student’s ability to work at an individual pace and the multiple entry points allows for differentiation.  There is also a possibility for educators to use IM to create scenarios, as a mechanism to introduce students to new units of work, or introduce assessment pieces in an engaging format (Lamb & Johnson, 2010).  Cullen (2015) believes that application led learning bolsters motivation and engagement in students, which is essential for improved learning experiences and positive outcomes.   

RobertCheaib / Pixabay – Device distractions.

 

There are valid contraindications to the use of technology in educational settings.  Studies have shown comprehension is lower in narratives and expository texts when a device is used (Jeon, 2012; Mangen et al., 2013).  Jeon (2012) believes that within some forms of technology, the complex nature and formatting of the text causes too great a cognitive load on students and thus it negatively affects comprehension.  Hashim & VongKulluksn (2018) concur and point out that students often become distracted in their attempt to multitask on devices, which leads to decreased metacognitive regulation and reduces text completion.  

The format of text is also important for comprehension.  Digital literature in all forms have lower comprehension rates in comparison to traditional texts (Jeon, 2012; Mangen et al., 2013).  One of the other main reasons for this unfavourable comparison is visual ergonomics.  Visual ergonomics, such as lowered spatial stability, leads to a negative mental representation of the text (Mangen et al., 2013, p.66).  Good readers have a high mental recall of information positioning in text.  Consequently, limited mental representation restricts recall and makes it harder for students to construct new banks of knowledge from individual pieces of information. One suggestion to combat this limitation and to promote a more equitable approach in classrooms is to limit digital reading to short extracts only, and it to be of low stakes value rather than summative assessment (Mangen et al., 2013, p.66).  

I obviously have not taken my own advice and have written an epic instead of a synopsis!

Hashim & VongKulluksn (2018) suggests that whilst e-readers provide context and analysis, it lacks the social factor that discussion groups and literature circles provide. There is also an implication that educators fail to treat e-readers like they treat print texts, and therefore provide less scaffolding to students leading to lower comprehension rates.  This failure could be due to a lack of personal knowledge to the functionality of e-readers, or simply that teachers are not physically able to see how much of the text the student has engaged with and thus forget to offer assistance (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).  Therefore, in the interests of equity, it is important that ebooks are scaffolded in the same way as a print books because, as students gain mastery in their reading, scaffolding can be adjusted to help their progress from a low to a higher mental function (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).  

geralt / Pixabay – Pedagogy matters

 

There are other obstacles to using ebooks in educational settings.  Primarily, students are not motivated to use e-readers for learning.  This could be due to the fact that e-readers are no longer considered a novelty, that devices themselves are commonplace, and lastly, that traditional texts actually provide greater enjoyment than digital literature  (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).  Ebooks have also been known to cause eye irritation which in turn reduces surface legibility, and increases eye strain and mental fatigue (Jeon, 2012).  These physical demands lead to an increased error rate and reduces overall comprehension, which in turn leads  to a lower perception of ereaders and ebooks (Jeon, 2012).  Other than diminishing comprehension, ebooks can also be seen as tedious in comparison to other entertainment found on devices (Jeon, 2012). Though there is some suggestion that digital natives are resistant to these issues as they are more familiar with technology (Jeon, 2012). 

Some educators are reluctant to provide audiobooks to their students in lieu of print texts as they can be viewed as ‘cheating’.  But Dahl (2016) disagrees with and finds that audiobooks provide the same learning experience as reading after a certain level of literacy has been reached.  This is based upon the theory that the decoding specific to reading becomes instinctive after a certain point in literacy is achieved (Dahl, 2016).  The reasoning is that ‘reading comprehension’ is similar to ‘auditory comprehension’ and that echoic memory is comparable to the visual system of eye regression, though the concept of ‘flipping back’ is a bit more problematic in an audiobook (Dahl, 2016).  

The current predominate argument surrounding school is that digital media will engage reluctant readers and therefore improve learning outcomes (Springen, 2010; Cullen, 2015).  But some educators argue that these alternative texts lack equity as they are limited to students and schools with digital access and financial security (Sekeres & Watson, 2011).  Sekeres & Watson (2011) even go further to suggest that educators need to be aware that children are often targeted as consumers in their own right and therefore teachers need to be circumspect when they select digital literature that it actually leads to learning and not just entertainment. 

From a school collection perspective there are significant issues with ebooks and audiobooks, namely access and cost (O’Connell, Bates & Mitchell, 2015).  This is due to the fact that both ebooks and audiobooks require a personal device such as a mobile phone or tablet and many younger students do not have that level of access.  They also require a financial contribution and or a library membership, which again can be limiting for younger students to practice their digital literacy skills.  One suggestion to address the rising cost of digital literature is to promote public library memberships in schools.  Students who have library memberships at school, local and state libraries, have access to a wide range of texts in both print and digital formats.  Some larger institutions also offer electronic access to databases and periodicals which is very useful for secondary students.  This reduces the cost to the individual and school systems without limiting access to information.

Licencing and leasing are problematic when it comes to digital literature. Physical books are bought by the library, require no device to use, and are useful till the book gets lost, deselected or falls into disrepair.  Ebooks in comparison, are either downloaded (purchased), or borrowed and both require a device and the internet to be used.  These devices, such as iPods, ereaders, laptops and tablets can be quite expensive for school libraries and students to purchase and maintain (Gray, 2017).  Additionally, if a school library chooses to use a platform such as Borrowbox or Wheelers as their access point for ebooks and audiobooks, they are limited by that publisher’s collection as to what titles meet the developmental needs of the students and curriculum requirements (Gray, 2017).  Teacher librarians need to be cautious when selecting platforms for digital literature that they are not limiting their readers to resources based upon publishing contracts and nepotism.  Furthermore, the school may not own ‘loaned titles’ and may have to pay a leasing or access fee on a yearly basis.  So whilst there seems to be great flexibility, especially with regards to remote access, there can be some stringent financial restraints for schools when it comes to building a robust ebook and audiobook collection.  

O’Connell, Bates & Mitchell (2015) suggest that the goal of school libraries is to adapt to the digital needs of the student cohort, which means that the reading culture has to be addressed as well as ensuring a divergence of media is available.  Therefore, teacher librarians and school library collections are tasked with ensuring students are given ample access to the different forms of media for teaching and learning across the curriculum as well as for recreational purposes.  This means access to both traditional and digital forms of literature.  But promotion of wide reading programs and access to emerging literature trends needs to be buttressed by pedagogical practices that support reading and comprehension across the various domains.  

The question for teachers, teacher librarians and other educators is that will these new media forms benefit the teaching and learning practices in classrooms, and more specifically, secondary classrooms?  It is clearly evident that the information revolution has changed the way society is functioning.  Therefore it is important that students gain the skills and knowledge to succeed in this modern world.  From the evidence provided, secondary students are more receptive to digital literature because of its engaging format, portability and text anonymity.  But many lack the reading and comprehension skills to fully understand the nature of the text and therefore are at a literacy disadvantage.  Educators need to recall the importance of culture and tools in Vygotsky’s theory of learning and provide access to a range of literature across the various forms of media.  The reading paradigm has changed and teachers must change their teaching and learning to suit this new world.  

 

REFERENCES 

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (2018). Literacy. In Australian Curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/generalcapabilities/literacy/introduction/introduction

Dahl, M. (2016, August 10). To your brain, listening to a book is pretty much the same as reading it. The Cut. Retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/2016/08/listening-to-a-book-instead-of-reading-isnt-cheating.html

Dickenson, D. (2014). Children and reading: Literature review. Australia Council 2014. Retrieved August 2016.

Gray, M. (2017). Ebooks: To subscribe or not to subscribe? Connections, 101. Retrieved from scis.data.com/connections/issue-101/ebooks-to-subscribe-or-not-to-subscribe 

Hashim, A & VongKulluskn, V. (2018). E reader apps and reading engagement: A descriptive case study. Computers and Education, 125, pp.358-375. Retrieved from https://www.journals.elsevier.com/computers-and-education/

Jabr, F. (2013). The reading brain in the digital age: The science of paper versus screens. Scientific American

Jeon, H. (2012). A comparison of the influence of electronic books and paper books on reading comprehension, eye fatigue, and perception. The Electronic Library, 30(3), 390-408. doi: 10.1108/02640471211241663 

Keen, N. (2016). Stopping the slide: improving reading rates in the middle school. Connections, 99. Retrieved from https://www.scisdata.com/connections/issue-99/stopping-the-slide-improving-reading-rates-in-the-middle-school/

Lamb, A., & Johnson, L. (2010). Divergent convergence part 2: Cross-genre, multi-platform, transmedia experiences in school libraries.Teacher Librarian, 38(1), 64-69. Retrieved from http://teacherlibrarian.com/

Cullen, M. (2015, December 21). How is interactive media changing the way children learn. In EducationTechnology. Retrieved from https://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2015/12/how-is-interactive-media-changing-the-way-children-learn/

Mangen, A., Walgermo, B. R. & Bronnick, K.A. (2013). Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research, 58, 61-68.doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2012.12.002 

Moore, J., & Cahill, M. (2016). Audiobooks; Legitimate ‘reading’ material for adolescents? Research Journal of the American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved from www.ala.org/aasl/slr/volume19/moore-cah

O’Connell, J., Bales, J., Mitchell, P. (2015). [R]Evolution in reading cultures: 2020 vision for school libraries. The Australian Library Journal, 63(3), 194-208. DOI: 10.1080/00049670.2015.1048043

Sargeant, B. (2015). What is an ebook? what is a book app? And why should we care? An analysis of contemporary picture books. Children’s Literature in education, 46, 454-466. doi: 10.1007/s10583-015-9243-5

Sekeres, D. c. & Watson, C. (2011). New literacies and multimediacy: The immersive universe of the 39 Clues. Children’s Literature in Education, 42, 256-273. Doi: 10.1007/s10583-011-9133-4

Springen, K. (2010, July 19). The digital revolution in children’s publishing. Publisher’s Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/43879-the-digital-revolution-in-children-s-publishing.html.

 

Book Review – Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally

Book of the Day

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally was a very dry read.  It was drier than the cheapest plonk at the pub during happy hour.  Now before anyone starts collecting rocks to stone me, I would challenge them to read the book too and then comment.  

I am not denying that the material in the book is powerful.  I definitely acknowledge that the book is filled with names, places and intense facts.  But it is not prose. Upon thinking this further, I recollect the subject of the book and wonder if there is a reason for that.  If the author, in this case Thomas Keneally was aiming for an emotive piece, it would be a character lie. By all accounts, Oskar Schindler was a hard drinking and reckless businessman who cheated on his wife with regularity (Hurvitz & Karesh, 2016).  He destroyed his family business, sought to cheat, lie and swindle his way back into a life of comfort. Quite frankly, by all tokens, this man was an immoral and wasteful character. Then Schindler went on to save almost 1300 Jews from the concentration camps during those dark days in Eastern Europe.  This man, who by the standards of his time, and now; unworthy of attention; put his own life at risk to save others. His actions have been immortalised in a book, a major Spielberg movie production and the term Schindlerjuden or Schindler’s Jews, which is still used to refer to the descendents of those that were saved.   

So when you consider all these facts, the dryness of Keneally’s “Schindler’s Ark” makes sense.  It would be a lie if the book was anything other than prosaic. Instead, its matter of fact manner of describing the main character’s traits ensures that the reader does not view him with rose framed lenses.  The reader is made fully aware of Oskar’s failings as a man and a husband. It is in viewing these failings that Schindler’s true heroism is seen. The plain language allows the reader to envision the fear hiding between the stalwart words.  Conversely, the plain language also allows readers with little imagination to read the book without being overwhelmed.  

“Schindler’s Ark” was a very dry read for someone who is a lover of prose.  As an avid reader of fiction, I found this novel to be more informative than anything else.  I also found it heartbreaking, just like the sadness I feel when the happy hour wine is just awful.  But whilst this book was a struggle for me, it would be ideal for reluctant teens who struggle with engaging with fictitious stories.  The language, style and format of the book resemble information books and thus may satisfy their need for ‘facts’.  But whilst the Guardian review suggests this book as appropriate for 8-12 year old children, I would probably restrict it to students over 14-15 years old.  This would then correlate well with the year 10 HASS’s World War 2 and Holocaust unit especially the ACDSEH025 elaboration.  It would also work well in the Biographies and memoirs unit in Year 10 English.  

 REFERENCES:

Alannahbee, (2013). Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally – review. The Guardian. Retrieved 16th March, 2020 from https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2013/sep/25/review-schindler-s-ark-by-thomas-keneally

Axelrod, A. (2013). Schindler, Oskar. In Encyclopedia of World War II, vol. 2. New York: Facts On File. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=19165&itemid=WE53&articleId=265017.

Hurvitz, M. M., & Karesh, S. E. (2016). Schindler, Oskar. In Encyclopedia of Judaism, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=19165&itemid=WE53&articleId=263928.

It was the moment I fell in love…

kaboompics / Pixabay – Falling in love

 

I fell in love for the first time with a boy named James Winthrop Frayne II.  I was 11 years old and madly in love. He was 16 years old, tall and very smart, with red hair, green eyes and a slightly crooked smile. 

PlushDesignStudio / Pixabay – In love with books.

 

Unfortunately for me, James or Jim, as I lovingly referred to him, was a character in my favourite book series “Trixie Belden”. In fact, my love for Jim Frayne was so embedded into my mind that I ended up marrying another lovely redhead (he says honey-blond) who also happened to have James in his name.  And whilst I was falling in love with Jim Frayne…

I fell in love with reading books. 

Now when I say I love books, I say this as an adult who reads on a daily basis. 

I have never spent a day in my life as far as I can remember without reading or food.  In fact reading and eating are interwoven rather closely in my life. I have eaten my way through many books and I have read my way through many meals.  Even now as a mother of three, dinner table conversations are still second place to a book. So for me, books are a need, like food and water. I indulge that need with classics and new authors; old favourites and popular series.  But series fiction holds a dear spot in my heart. As a child, series fiction gave me Jim and Trixie, Harry and Hermoine, Frank and Joe, Nancy and Bess, Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, Lucy, Pollyanna, Heidi, George and Timmy, Darryl and Sally. As an adult series fiction brought me Doc Scarpetta, Tempe Brennan, Ayla of no people, Falco, Jamie and Claire plus many others into my life.  Whilst I have loved the classics and other stand alone titles, series fiction brought me the greatest joy.   

{silence} {crickets} {crashing cups of tea and chairs} {my career as a future TL fading into the sunset}

Yes, as an adult who is also a fledgling teacher librarian, I am voicing out loud my deep and ardent affection for serial stories.  Now, once everyone has picked themselves off the floor and righted their tea cups; I will explain my thoughts.

I acknowledge that series fiction, whether for adults or children, has often been regarded as literary rubbish.  Often viewed as the ‘Mills & Boon’ of literature, series fiction is derided for its repetitive structure, predictive plot and lack of character development (Westfahl, 2018).  Some would even argue that its presence on bookshelves is a betrayal of literary values (Westfahl, 2018). But these people are snobs! Books do not always have to be among the lexicons of literature.  Books, especially fiction books, should be able to satisfy cognitive, emotional and the developmental needs of the reader and series fiction definitely addresses the emotional needs of both fledging and proficient readers.

But before I elaborate deeply on how series fiction changed my life; I would like to clarify a few technical issues.  There are three main types of series fiction. Firstly, there is the progressive series; where a longer narrative is broken down into shorter novels and the sequence of titles is important to the reader and storyline (Wooldridge, 2015).  Then there are the successive series, where the plot repeats itself continuously and lastly, the accidental variety where the author reluctantly writes prequels and sequels to comfort the crazies.  

Rowling’s Harry Potter, Marsden’s Tomorrow when the war began, Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Wilder’s Little house books are some examples of progressive series.  These book concatenations had a definite end which saw the characters grow and develop along with the reader.  I was one of those readers that grew up with Ellie and Harry. I devoured John Marsden’s series in a matter of months.  My poor high school teacher librarian was continuously pestered to get the rest of the series once I got hold of the first one. Poor man!  Lucky for him, by the time I discovered Harry, I had a job and a library membership! I was 13 when the first HP book was released and as Harry grew up, so did I.  Harry, Hermoine and Ron were more than just book characters, for me they were friends.  

Successive series examples include the famous Diary of a wimpy kid, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, Babysitters club, Animorphs, Famous Five, Secret Seven, and Bobbsey Twins.  These series have a foreseeable story patterns with comforting characters and obvious plots (Wooldridge, 2015).  Whilst these books may seem formulaic (they are!), it is their predictability that makes them popular. Series fiction offers children constancy and security in a world full of upheaval (Wooldridge, 2015).  Children develop a sense of trust, an affection with the character and possibly even a relationship with the author (Wooldridge, 2015). So while they themselves grow up through the tumultuous years of puberty, series fiction with its predictability offers an escape, a playdate with an old friend.  

I developed this type of relationship with Enid Blyton after being introduced to the Famous Five. The sheer joy received from reading that series led me to trust her writing style and with it I discovered Secret Seven, 5 find outers and it, Mallory Towers, Twins at St Claire’s, Wishing Chair, Enchanted Tree, Amelia Jane and so many more.  For an awkward immigrant kid with poor social skills, these books allowed me to escape to places where magic and friendship abounded.  My daughter is also a big Blyton fan. Every time she picks up a book authored by Blyton, I know that she will most likely gain the same level of emotional satisfaction that I did and so develop her love of reading.  There is also a great deal of enjoyment to share with her the books of my childhood.

The last main type of series fiction is the accidental variety.  These are books that the author only planned on one, and then somehow their popularity has meant sequels and prequels were soon requested by adoring fans.  George M Martin’s Game of Thrones is such a series, spawning an TV run that lasted several years and ended before the last book has even been published.  Diana Gabaldan’s Outlander series is currently stalled at the near publication of its 9th book and only time will tell if the tenth book will ever eventuate (especially since the first book was published almost 20 years ago!).  Other accidental series include Baum’s Wizard of Oz, Norton’s The Borrowers and P. L. Traver’s Mary Poppins.  Because these series were accidental and not planned, their storylines do not always make sense and can appear a bit jerky at times.  Sometimes they abruptly end if the author or readers lose interest.  

Series fiction has been around for a long time. As much as some literary snobs would hate to admit, there are some current classics that used to be serials.  Dicken’s Pickwick Papers and another seven of his other titles as well as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes started off as series but then were condensed into a novel several reprints later (McGill-Franzen & Ward, 2018).  Even further back to the folklore stories such as mythical twelve tasks of Hercules; the thousand and one stories of Scherazade and adventures of the Round table are varieties of series fiction.  So to all those literary snobs that believe series fiction are rubbish… well… pffft to you.  

If you think about it from a practical viewpoint it makes sense if you have a recipe that works to use it!  Edward Strathmeyer had such a recipe back in the boom days of series fiction. He planned outlines of books and then organised cheap ghost writers to write the stories, and oh boy… did it work!  The whole Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys production is based upon this magical recipe (Westfahl, 2018).  The recipe had some key ingredients. Characters are kept the same age; have the same small town holistic upbringing; go on amazing adventures, travel the world but always come home safely to a loving family.  These books allowed children and teens (mainly aimed at Caucausian middle class Americans) an avenue of escape from their groundhog day lives. As these book characters all suffered from perennial Peter Pan syndrome, they have never lost their appeal even in its trillionth reprint nearly ninety years after the first copy (Finnian, 2013).  I will mention here that whilst racial demographics and family structure has evolved significantly since the first Stratemeyer book was published in 1927, their popularity has not changed.  The plot pattern remains the same but the settings and dilemmas have evolved with the times.  Obviously the recipe still works!

So what is the benefit of series fiction?  Besides emotional satisfaction, series fiction allows the reader to build their literacy skills.  McGill-Franzen & Ward (2018) believes that the predictable plots assist in developing word recognition which in turn boosts vocabulary and reading confidence.  The formulaic story pattern allows the reader to easily identify any explicit reading conventions present. This expanded vocabulary and confidence then allows the reader to successfully use their increased literacy skills in other areas. 

Series fiction makes it simple for readers to identify titles they are willing to read because they identify with the author.  Reluctant readers are more likely to pick a book they are familiar with by the same author; than a title by a new author. They are also more likely to try other titles by that author because of the relationship that was previously established.  A great example is John Flanagan, author of the fabulous Ranger’s apprentice series.  Teens who enjoy that series often move onto the Royal Ranger series as well as Brotherband because they trust the author. The same can be said for Rick Riordan and the plethora of books he has published.  

The impact of series fiction is clear.  Children and teens who read more books end up being more adults who read.  Remember, committed adult readers were hooked onto reading as children by series fiction (McGill-Franzen & Ward, 2018).  And whilst reading of insightful novels that provokes critical thinking complements a wide reading program, it cannot replace it.  Pushing the classics onto children and teens before they are ready is unlikely to work. But offering them an opportunity to connect with an author or a series they can engage with may put them onto the pathway towards literature.  After all, children do age out of one series and into another (McGill-Franzen & Ward, 2018). They grow from Blyton’s Magic Faraway tree to Rodda’s Rowan of Rin, to Rowling’s Harry Potter to Marsden’s Tomorrow when the war began to Davis’ Falco, Cornwall’s Scarpetta and Reichs’ Bones and Hume’s Arthur and Merlin series and eventually they reach the classics. Why do I know that?  Cos I did just that.  

I fell in love with reading as a child.  I have stayed in love with reading as an adult.  Are you in love with reading? If so, when did it happen?

REFERENCES

Finnan, Robert (2013). “Unofficial Nancy Drew Home Page”. Retrieved 14th March 2020. 

McGill-Franzen, A. & Ward, N. (2018). To develop proficiency and engagement, give series books to novice readers. In D. Wooten, B. Cullinan, L. Liang & R. Allington (Eds). Children’s literature in the reading program: Engaging young readers in the 21st century, (5th ed., pp. 153-168). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.

Westfahl, G. (1999-2018). Series fiction. World of Westfahl. Retrieved from https://www.sfsite.com/gary/ww-ref-series01.htm

Woolridge, T. (2015). Series fiction and Sallly Rippin’s Billie B Brown series: The ‘Most important continuous reading children do on their own’. mETAphor, 3, 30-35. Retrieved from https://www.englishteacher.com.au/

 

The good, the bad and the ugly of Roald Dahl

Authors are magicians. 

pendleburyannette / Pixabay  – Magician or Author

 

They capture your imagination with words and imagery. 

Similar to a siren singing her tune, an author draws the reader in with stories of heroes, villains, mysteries and magic.  There are several writers that come to mind when one thinks about  perspicacity at understanding a developing mind. Enid Blyton comes to my thoughts immediately, as it was her books of Faraway trees, Wishing Chairs, Mallory Towers and the adventurous children that beguiled and transformed me into a certifiable bookworm.  Other authors with these same mystical powers include Emily Rodda, A A Milne, Dr Seuss, C. S Lewis, Beatrix Potter, E.B White, Lewis Carrol, Eric Carle, Rick Riordan, J K Rowling and of course, Roald Dahl.

Dahl’s popularity has enthralled generations of children with his fantastical tales.  Even 30 years after the publication of perspicacious Matilda, the lure is still strong according to Kelly (2019) who recently published an article in the Sunday Times just short of the author’s birthdate.  Dahl’s books have inspired generations of children to read.  His stories of redemption and resilience appeal to both children and adults.  I found it particularly interesting that the books often seem to be narrated by the child protagonist.  By doing so, Dahl places the reader in the central position and thus immediately engages their interest.  The books often place the child in the role of an underdog and their eventual vanquishment of the bigger and older (usually an adult) enemy gives great satisfaction.  Darby (2016) believes that this narrative style is appealing to children as it makes them feel like “someone is in their court”.  

Studiolarsen / Pixabay – Victory at last

 

Some people assert that Dahl’s books are macabre and filled with violence, racial slurs, misogyny and vindictive behaviour.  Anderson (2016) argues that the books caused great disturbance among adult readers when they first started being published in the late 60’s. Stories where witches turn children into mice, people are fed worms and or eaten by giants, and let us not forget principals that swing cute girls by their hair like a discus and push children into nail studded cupboards.  

In fact, “James and the Giant Peach has been lambasted for its racism, profanity and sexual innuendo” Anderson (2016) states.  

punch_ra / Pixabay – Just Peachy

 

It appears Dahl was provoking everyone, as he offended numerous demographics in equal measure.  But I am starting to believe that the provocation is what lured children to read and re-read his books.  It was just that little bit naughty and disgusting. Just enough to make children feel superior and more wise than the character, but not too much as to disengage the reader.  Arguably this is probably what explains Dahl’s longevity as an author. Nice clean stories such as Wilder’s Little House series has its staunch clientele but it does lacks the Dahl’s drawcard in that the majority of children do not identify with these characters.  Kole (2018) suggests that it is when the reader can draw upon their own experience with the subject matter that engagement with the text occurs. This could be contended similar for L M Montgomery’s Anne or White’s Charlotte’s Web. All extremely well written and received books, but not as far reaching as Dahl.  Whilst their stories do have points of personal travail, they simply are not dark enough.  

KELLEPICS / Pixabay – Looking for the Bogeyman

 

This need for darkness is important for children’s literature

as Anderson (2016) and Kole (2018) further elucidate.  One can only think of the popularity of the Grimm fairy tales, Rowling’s Harry Potter, Collins ’Hunger Games and Meyer’s Twilight to realise that the desire for grim has not changed in centuries. The adage about literature reflecting life is the underlying support for this need for fear and fright in children’s books.  Stories of children overcoming great difficulty has the ability to build great resilience and empathy in the reader.  

johnhain / Pixabay – Empathy on your mind?

 

We are all aware of how reading builds empathy.  Readers identify with the characters in the story and thus the feelings from one are juxtaposition-ed on the other .  But reading fictitious stories of giants, witches and wizards, whilst unrealistic, also gives children an important cathartic release according to Bettelheim (2010).  Rochelle (1977) whilst dated, firmly believes that adults and children both require fantastical literature to interweave the complex strains of good and evil in humanity.  Fantastical tales give children innate strength to overcome hurdles life throws at them, no matter how bizarre it is (Kole, 2018).  Children are aware that these stories are unreal in the fantastical sense but the situation that the characters are facing are very real indeed (Rochelle, 1977). Wakefield (2014) agrees and points out that fairy tales are there to protect rather than terrify, as the protagonist is forced to seek inner strength to overcome the villain.  The stories illustrate that these situations can be overcome, and in that, give hope and possibly a way out. 

Fantastical tales are more than just entertainment.  In their own way, they give children (and adults) the ability to fight demons in both the real world and in their dreams. After all, the lives of children are not always filled with rainbows and unicorns.  Many children live in shadows. Reading stories such as Dahl’s encourage children (and adults) to go past their grim quagmire and find their inner strength.  

So this Roald Dahl day on September 13, read a fantastical story… and at the same time, gain some humanity.

References.

Anderson, H. (2016) The dark side of Roald Dahl. BBC Culture. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160912-the-dark-side-of-roald-dahl

Bettelheim, B (2010) The uses of enchantment; the meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Vintage Books. Vintage Edition. 

Darby, S. (2016). 15 Must read children’s authors. BNKIDS blog. [blog]. Retrieved from  barnesandnoble.com/blog/kids/15-must-read-childrens-authors/

Kelly, L. (2019). Roald Dahl clan to share £6m dividend from licensing rights. Sunday Times. Retrived from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/roald-dahl-clan-to-share-6m-dividend-from-licensing-rights-bdtdt6qfd

Grinstead, R. (2016) Happy Roald Dahl day. Medium.com [blog]. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@rhysgrinstead/its-roald-dahl-day-here-s-how-he-influenced-me-844a4e75bc19

Kole, K. (2018). The role of fairy tales in affective learning: Enhancing adult literacy and learning in FE and community settings. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 58(3), 365-389. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/2250950746?accountid=10344

Rochelle, L. (1977). The search for meaning through fantasy. The English Journal.  Vol. 66, No. 7, pp 54-55.  Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/814365

Wakefield, M. (2014). Why scary fairy stories are the best. The Spectator.  

Library vibes

I’ve always taken my kids to the library.  My eldest first visited when she was six days old. I was a new nursing mum and desperate for reading materials to keep me entertained through those numerous breastfeeds.  Throughout her infancy we visited different libraries on rotation.  Some had great books.  Others had great coffee nearby.  Some had social groups that I was interested in.  Either way the local library was where I felt relaxed and welcome.

Fast forward to mothering toddlers and then preschoolers, the library was where we did ‘Rhyme time’, ‘toddler time’, and ‘storytime’. Each session was eagerly awaited by mother and enjoyed whoheartedly by child and then, children.

Now as a mum of three, my library visits are less regulated mainly cos life is busy. But I do believe that my children are thriving, because of their lifetime access to books.

I just read this amazing article about Kids and libraries do mix. 

Local libraries are more than just a warehouse of books.  They are an escape from the mundane, a breath of fresh air, and most importantly, a welcoming space.

So I dare you.  Go to a local library.  Take the kids and watch the magic happen.

Institutionally Yours.

8300 / Pixabay – Institution – School or prison?

 

Reading is a vital skill for learning at school and success in later life.  There is multitudes of research to show that an early exposure to books has a direct correlation to literacy success.  This success during formative schooling years often translates to ameliorated schooling outcomes in primary and high school, increased self esteem and overall positive well being.  Unfortunately, substandard literacy skills often convert to poor education outcomes, decreased earnings and lower health outcomes. Thus it seems fairly obvious that literacy needs to be the forefront of the education system to ensure that our young citizens have the best chance at a successful and happy future.

But the statistics are dreadful.  ABS (2013) reports that over 40% of Australian adults lack sufficient literacy skills to cope with daily life.  This is astounding! For a first world nation this is unacceptable. How does this even happen in Australia?

Softlink (2011) research indicates that literacy levels are proportional to the presence of a school library and a qualified teacher librarian.  This is further corroborated by UNESCO (2016), that libraries are the keystone in which literacy is built and promoted upon. By this token, it seems plausible that all educational facilities have a library and librarian.  

Australian correctional centres have embraced this life long learning challenges by mandating that all prisons, jails, correctional facilities and detention centres have a library on site (ALIA, 2015). These libraries serve three main causes, to provide information for personal development; to improve educational outcomes and for recreational purposes (ALIA, 2015).  Bevan (1984) takes the point further to ensure that detainees are encouraged to read and to have access to the library.

 

StockSnap / Pixabay

 

What a marvelous thing this is?  I wish our children had the same access.

Yes, it is true.  All inmates of correctional centres have the right to access a library which is run by a qualified librarian.    Yet in Tasmania less than 50% of schools have a teacher librarian. Victoria has seen the numbers of qualified teacher librarians drop significantly over the past decade (Better Beginnings, n.d.).  Well meaning but unqualified teachers and or assistants are resourcing the library and implementing literacy goals for our students, and it is not working out.

Once again, society bemoans the inadequacies of our children in their reading and writing without actually thinking as to the cause of it.  Blame is flung eagerly at social media, inattentive parents, flying pigs and the like. But the real reason why our children’s literacy levels are deteriorating is because the information expert is  absent from the school context.

The 2011 House of Representatives inquiry into schools and their libraries detailed the importance that teacher librarians bring to schools and their community.   UNESCO (2016) Institute for Lifelong Learning published a policy dictating how libraries support lifelong literacy. Even the Bevan (1984) Institute of Criminology has mandated that prisoners get access to a library and books in order to improve well being and increase their chance of re-entering society.

 

Why can’t we give our children the same chance as we give the incarcerated? 

 

References

ABS (2013) Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia, 2011-12. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4228.0Main+Features202011-12

ALIA (2015) Australian Library and Information Association Minimum Standard Guidelines for Library Services to Prisoners.  Retrieved from https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/policies-and-guidelines/alia-policies/prison-guidelines

Better Beginnings (n.d.) Research about Literacy and reading. Retrieved from https://www.better-beginnings.com.au/research/research-about-literacy-and-reading

Bevan, C., (1984) Minimum standard guidelines for Australian prisons 1978 (Editor), Australian Institute of Criminology. Retrieved from https://aic.gov.au/publications/archive/min-standard-guidelines-prisons

House Standing Committee on Education and Employment (2011) School libraries and teacher librarians in 21st century Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=ee/schoollibraries/report.htm

Peschers, G (2011) Books Open Worlds for People Behind Bars: Library Services in Prison as Exemplified by the Münster Prison Library, Germany’s “Library of the Year 2007”. Library Trends 59:3 pp520-543

UNESCO (2016) Libraries and literacy using libraries support nation literacy efforts. UNESCO Institute of life long learning. Retrieved from http://uil.unesco.org/literacy/libraries-and-literacy-using-libraries-support-national-literacy-efforts-uil-policy-brief-6

The Hub (n.d.) Statistics available on school libraries in Australia Softlink’s Australian School Library Survey 2011. {Blog} Quality school libraries in Australia. Retrieved from https://hubinfo.wordpress.com/background/few-statistics/