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Children's Literature and Literacy

Glenna Sloan






Welcome to Children's Literature and Literacy.


The following quote is from my book, The Child as Critic (Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 2003, p.11):

Literacy begins in hearts, not heads. For some it may begin in the moment of silent awe that follows the reading of a poem like “The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver ” by Edna St. Vincent Millay (The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems, Harper, 1924). For others it might start with laughter at the mishaps of Pooh and Piglet or in tears at Charlotte's death. For little ones, chanting the refrain of Wanda Gag'sMillions of Cats (Coward McCann, 1928) might be all it takes. There is a story or poem to raise a goose bump on the toughest skin, and we teachers, parents, and librarians are well advised to help each child to find it. A child who has never thrilled to words will remain indifferent to reading and writing them.

The conviction expressed here stems from a number of sources: my own personal experience; 16 years of teaching elementary and middle school students; and three decades of reading the results of classroom research undertaken as assignments by the teachers in my graduate classes in children's literature and literacy development at Queens College, CUNY. Within the biographies of countless successful writers is further proof that children become readers — and writers — when their emotions are stirred and their imaginations stretched by what they read themselves or hear others read. In Books Remembered, a 1997 publication of the Children's Book Council www.cbcbooks.org are articles by 29 noted authors of children's books. In each article is a testimonial to the literature that set the writers on the path to true literacy, which is not merely knowing how to read and write but reading and writing because written words are a source of wonder and joy.

Lee Bennett Hopkins (p.115), poet and anthologist, tells how stumbling upon a slim volume of verse, Whispers and Other Poems by Myra Cohn Livingston (Harcourt, 1958), made him "a poetry-addict". Jane Yolen, author of hundreds of works for children, talks of devouring, as a child, the Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue Fairy Books edited by Andrew Lang (now available from Dover Publications).Visiting Lang's grave in Scotland, Yolen whispered to it: "Thank you for my living. And thank you for my life" (p.97). Natalie Babbitt, author of such distinguished books for young people as Tuck Everlasting(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975), at age 9 met and loved the ALICE books "as I love few other things. ALICE is entirely responsible for my choosing to labor in the field of children's books"(p.17).

Literacy is a state of becoming, not a point to be reached. It has barely begun when children acquire the basics of reading and writing, which in themselves are passive skills, having to do with being an obedient citizen: able to read traffic signs and fill in the blanks of official forms... for children, printed words must provide wonder, delight, interest, and pleasure, or they won't bother to read, even though they may have learned the rudiments of reading... Reading and writing require considerable effort, and children will not expend it unless their experience convinces them that written words have significance in their lives... One sure way to convince them is through genuine literature, works that claim consideration because, having something to say, they use language to greatest effect in saying it (The Child as Critic, pp.4-5).






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