Children Reading at Home

An Historical Overview

Authored by: Evelyn Arizpe , Morag Styles

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570


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Evelyn Arizpe and Morag Styles, well known for their work together over the years, provide an historical account of parent/child reading. From a framework of connections, creativity, and critique, they demonstrate the similarities and differences in children reading at home over time—both children of privilege and those who had a hard time finding any books at all. The authors begin with their high adventure and close scholarly detective work in unveiling the reading lives of Jane Johnson and her family, and they end their chapter with modern day parents moving with their children into 21st century technologies. From “reading cards” to digital books, Arizpe and Styles offer us an insider’s view into the reading patterns in homes across the centuries.

…the ephemera of childhood…reside almost entirely in memory. Blocks, card sets, small chips and game parts, pictures torn or cut from magazines…lose their value and are thrown out. But what might such ephemera tell us of what went on in the nursery, before the hearth, or in the corner of rooms where children were sent to be entertained or to entertain themselves.

(Heath, 1997, p. 17)
Though the ephemera are often missing, other sources sometimes lead us into understanding of the relationship between children and books. For example, an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson (1992) drew attention to the Scottish poet Robert Burns’s home-schooled education and the influence of his father on his reading. Although a poor man, William Burns took pains to educate his children by borrowing books for them “and he felt it his duty to supplement (their knowledge of theology) by a dialogue of his own composition, where his own private shade of orthodoxy was exactly represented.” Stevenson wrote: “Such was the influence of this good and wise man that his household became a school to itself, and neighbours who came into the farm at mealtime would find the whole family, father, brothers, and sisters, helping themselves with one hand, and holding a book in the other” (p. 89).

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