Questioning the Value of Literacy

A Phenomenology of Speaking and Reading in Children

Authored by: Eva-Maria Simms

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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It may seem odd, in a handbook that studies and celebrates the written word for children, to include a chapter that attends to the losses involved in the child’s acquisition of traditional literacy. But as we are reminded in Betsy Hearne’s essay, our first introduction to literature is through oral stories; thus we need to consider what it means that our young readers were first speakers and listeners, and how that transformation from orality to literature fundamentally changes perceptual frameworks. Phenomenologist Eva-Maria Simms asks readers to consider the embodied contexts of language use in children and how these contexts change with the advent of alphabetic literacy. Such understanding can help us discern what’s at stake for the “reluctant readers” we encounter in our classrooms, as well as in Campano’s and Ghiso’s discussions of immigrant children learning to read books from cultures other than their own, or in the arguments Bradford highlights surrounding the inscription of indigenous narratives.

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