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Review of  Children's Literature as Communication

Reviewer: Laura Loder Büchel
Book Title: Children's Literature as Communication
Book Author: Roger D. Sell
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 14.172

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Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 15:48:50 +0100
From: Laura Buechel
Subject: Review of Sell (ed) (2002) Children's Literature as Communication

Sell, Roger D., ed. (2002) Children's Literature as Communication: The
ChiLPA Project. Benjamins, xi+352pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-258-6,
$81.00, Studies in Narrative 2.
Book announcement on Linguist:

Laura Loder Büchel, Paedagogische Hochschule Zuerich, Switzerland

Children's Literature as Communication offers many in-depth studies and
much insight into varying aspects of children's literature. Within the
sixteen chapters, topics such as the development from (and sometimes
return to) orality to literariness, issues in intertextuality, the role
of images, children's literature in the handling of issues such as the
Holocaust and growing up, and uses of children's literature in English
as a Foreign Language (EFL) are examined. This book is introduced by Dr.
Roger Sell and the subsequent chapters have been written by various
experts in the field of literature. The ChilPA (Children's Literature:
Pure and Applied) project is a doctoral program aimed at deepening the
understanding of children's literature. For more information concerning
this project, see

Part 1: Initiating: Resources at hand

Chapter 1: Orality and literacy: The wise artistry of The Pancatantra
Niklas Bengtsson presents Purnabhadra's version of The Pancantantra as
not only the first book written down for children, but the first
didactic book for children. Its five books are thematic, and were and
perhaps still are, used to share wisdom with the reader. This version
(of many versions, some probably not to be considered as children's
literature in today's world view) was, perhaps, used as empowerment of
the "common" people who could relate to the struggle against injustice.

Chapter 2: Orality and literacy, continued: Playful magic in Pushkin's
Tale of Tsar Saltan
A few centuries later than The Pancantantra, Puskin wrote The Tale of
Tsar Saltan based on stories he heard as a child. Janina Orlov provides
examples of how this tale reflects Pushkin's goal of becoming more
child-like through "writing himself back to childhood 8p. 52" although
it seemed to him that "the power of words is always limited (p. 40)".
She addresses a major theme throughout children's literature - that of
audience, here being adult.

Chapter 3: Intertextualities: Subtexts in Jukka Parkkinen's Suvi Kinos
In her discussion of two of Jukka Parkkinen's Suvi Kinos books, Kaisu
Rattya addresses explicit and implicit associations to other texts, such
as the Bible and Pippi Longstocking, through images, numbers, embedded
text and direct reference. What makes books as these so fascinating is
the differing levels of awareness between adult and children to these

Chapter 4: Intertextualities, continued: The connotations of proper
names in Tove Jansson
As Rattya discussed intertextuality of whole texts, Yvonne Bertills
addresses intertextuality through parts of texts, namely in the
translation of character names. Again, different audiences, adults or
children, native Finnish speakers or non-native ones, will or will not
understand character names which may have a certain specific meaning,
allude to a specific meaning, or sound simply good with the rest of the
text. The author also addresses mistranslation, sometimes for the sake
of keeping close to the original, sometimes simply due to thoughtlessness.

Chapter 5: The verbal and the visual: The picturebook as a medium
Maria Nikolajeva discusses the multifaceted role of pictures which can,
among other things, present the same information as the text, give more
information than the text, or perhaps contradict the text. The
interpretation of visuals, as well as of text, can be different for the
child and the adult viewer.

Part II: Negotiating: Issues examined

Chapter 6: Growing up: The dilemma of children's literature
In her second insightful chapter, Maria Nikolajeva searches for other
clues as to what defines children's literature. Perhaps, then, when the
"rite of passage is still unaccomplished (p. 130)", we have children's
literature. She finds that different types of literature, Utopian,
Carnivalesque, Postlapsarian, for example, deal with times in children's
lives - from innocence to the negotiation of identity in pre-adolescence.

Chapter 7: Childhood: A narrative chronotope
Children's literature, by nature of being written mostly by adults,
often attempts to prepare children for adulthood. The relationships
between time and space (chronotope) play an important role in defining
children's literature. In this chapter, Rosemary Ross addresses this
issue and puts for the idea that "the forward thrust...implies
possibilities and options (p. 147)."

Chapter 8: Child-power? Adventures into the animal kingdom - The
Animorphs series
Using K.A. Applegate's popular Animorphs series as an example, Maria
Lassen-Seger finds that, here, the sometimes-taken-view of children's
literature as a means of projecting adult wishes onto children, correct.
She finds that this series does not encourage children to accept
themselves or discover their own identities, but that it rather
encourages them morph into something else in order to be great.

Chapter 9: Gender and beyond: Ulf Stark's conservative rebellion
Through Starks' book Nutcases and Norms, Mia Osterlund addresses both
the issue involved, that of negotiating gender, as well as the
interpretations readers could have about the conclusion of this book.
When Simone, after having dressed like a boy and being called Simon,
finally puts on a frilly dress, Osterlund proposes that this is not
giving in, but a rebellion continued.

Chapter 10: Politics: Gubarev's Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors
The Soviet Union in the 1950s was a difficult time for authors to freely
express their views. This book, discussed by Jenniliisa Salminen, uses
allegory and irony to, on a superficial level (which children will
understand)to expose the readers to an ideal society, officially to show
the benefits of socialism, and in more depth (which addresses adults) to
criticize the oppression of the people due to the system as it was at
the time and then show their eventual triumph.

Chapter 11: The unspeakable: Children's fiction and the Holocaust
Lydia Kokkola addresses the questions of in how much detail such a
horror can be described and how it should be described to sensitively
trigger children to think about the Holocaust and other like issues,
critically. Kokkola evaluates examples of children's literature
according to how the information is presented - or where it is
suppressed and later presented (or not).

Part III: Responding: Pragmatic variables

Chapter 12: Early immersion reading: The narrative mode and meaning-making
Lydia Kokkola introduces this chapter by explaining a bit about the
Finnish school system as well clarifing some terms and theories (namely
Bruner and Egan) about reading. Through her analysis of two readers'
miscues throughout two genre of text (narrative and non-narrative),
Kokkola supports that while students need to learn to read a variety of
types of texts, that early EFL students would perhaps benefit most by
starting with the narrative form.

Chapter 13: Reader-learners: Children's novels and participatory pedagogy
Supporting the concept of a participatory pedagogy, Roger D. Sell
evaluates opinions on what culture is, purposes and types of FLE
(Foreign Language Teaching), language and culture study versus
acquisition, as well as issues in motivation or non-motivation through
his critique of Bryam's studies. He attests that using children's
literature with EFL students, if they are encouraged to read like a
native reader, is one important part of this sort of pedagogy as it
gives students a chance to guide their own learning - the teacher can
observe and supplement individual interests - and allows children to try
cultures on for size.

Chapter 14: Primary-level EFL: Planning a multicultural fiction project
Charlotta Sell proposes a field study in using multicultural children's
literature in the classroom not only to develop English literacy skills,
but also to make boundaries to other cultures smaller. She defines
components such as the choice of books, general and specific curriculum
aims, collaborative and individual activities, vocabulary development
and activities to support the writing and understanding of texts, which
would play a role in this education.

Chapter 15: Secondary-level EFL: Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi
Lilian Ronnqvista chooses this book, which tells the story of a girl
growing up in an Italian-Australian milieu of an Australian mainstream
society, because EFL students who live in Finland but have Swedish as
their native language, will easily be able to relate. She analyzes
varies cultural matches and mismatches addressed in the book such as
school and education, food, friendship and dating, food and names. She
emphasizes the role of the teachers as being that of the facilitator of
the class as well as cultural guide.

Chapter 16: Bilingualism, stories, new technology: The Fabula Project
Viv Edwards starts by addressing the advantages of electronic books over
the written form. She then defines the distinction between translating
and parallel authoring, the latter being better suited for EFL readers.
Through an example on the Fabula Project (A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts by
Dennis Reader, 1989), which aims at creating multilingual books, she
demonstrates the enthusiasm of the children in creating their own texts
and the development of community through this exchange of languages and

This book can be read on several levels. For a beginner to the field,
chapters were written clearly, assumed unfamiliar terms clarified, and
practical examples given. For those a bit more knowledgeable in the
field, there was content and depth of it for more ideas to be found and
for the reader to appreciate and learn from the details. One of the most
impressive features of this book was its cohesiveness. The chapters are
well linked together, and not just a collection of somewhat related
publications. The many obvious and underlying threads are well
interwoven from chapter to chapter. And although most chapters were
thought provoking and well written, the excellent introduction really
sparks curiosity about the following chapters. As children are not often
the critics of the books written towards them, adults have taken on this
role, and have done a good job in this publication.

It might be helpful to have an index of children's books cited
throughout and where they are located in the publication at the end. As
a user of children's literature in my own teaching, it would let me see
if any of the books I am using have been reviewed. For some of the
chapters, it would also occasionally help to know Finnish to understand
some of the puns, even though they are mostly all explained, and
occasionally a translation of a book title was omitted. It would also be
interesting to see if some of the mentioned ideas are turned into
concrete studies in the future.

Laura Loder Büchel is teacher trainer in the field of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in regards to the introduction of English into Swiss primary schools. She also works at Wall Street Institute in Winterthur, Switzerland where she is, among other things, responsible for curriculum design and academic progress of students. She completed her M.Ed. in Bilingual Education from Northern Arizona University in 2000. Her research interests include the advantages of simultaneous first and second language acquisition, early second language acquisition and Computer Assisted Language Learning to facilitate bilingualism.