What is Children's Litterature

A Non-Didactic Approach

by Maria Candelaria Posada

Presented by Liz Page

For nearly a year Maria Candelaria Posada has been organizing this workshop with Suzana Mukobwanjana. Sadly in the very last moment she was taken ill and could not travel to Kigali to see the outcome of their months of hard work. Maria Candelaria held the title of IBBY Director of Project Development in 2005, and it was in this position that she conceived and developed the project. I am honoured to be able to present to you today a summary of her paper, which she had hoped to present to you today. I am only giving you a short summary, but if you would like the complete text of her lecture, please leave your name and we shall give you either a paper copy, or, if you prefer to receive it electronically leave your e-mail address.

Children’s Literature: A non-didactical approach

Through the ages many authors and critics have defended the idea that one of the reasons why people must read is because they learn from reading. The origin of children’s books is plainly didactic, so it is no wonder that literature has been seen and been used as a tool to get children to learn not only concepts but also rules of behaviour. Only in the last 15 years has literature been advocated as the way to teach literacy.

In this paper, Maria Candelaria gives an overview of how readers have changed in the United States from the 1600s to the present day: from the religious emphasis, to the “practical life reading” – when textbooks ignored literature, up to the 1970’s when literature slowly regained its place in the reading class.

She goes on to discuss the effect of Bibliotherapy, which regards reading as a way to not only help children cope with loss or tragedy, but also for them to learn to stay within the limits of what society expects of them, showing them trustworthy, honest characters and hoping that this role modelling will sink into the reader’s consciousness. Chosen appropriately by a caring adult, books offer hope and courage. The child’s identification with a fictional character can provide something of the warmth given by a caring adult.

Another of the characteristics of literature is that it tells a story, a structured tale, a plot with beginning, conflict resolution, with characters that act in a certain way. This is something inherent in humans, the same way language is.

What we need to understand is how literacy through literature helps young children to connect with their emotions and feelings. It also demonstrates that instead of one universal truth there are many cultural truths and that tolerance and respect for diversity may be acquired through literature. In addition, it is universally accepted that literacy is a way out of poverty, as it makes the way for critical thinking, for analysis, for being able to form concepts about how things need to be changed.

The paper concludes with the fact that learning to read with children’s books should be the natural choice for teachers and the school curricula, even though there are many reasons why this is not universally possible or even accepted. In the developing countries, the only way for a large number of children to be in contact with books is at school, and teachers are the only agents of knowledge and literacy.

She ends with the statement: “every child has the right to be literate and the right to choose.”

I would like to thank Maria Candelaria for her work, and we would like to hold the following storytelling session in honour of her contribution.

Liz Page

Kigali, 26.6.06