Childhood Studies Children as Readers
by
Angela Hubler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0053

Introduction

Studies of children as readers seek to understand factors that influence children’s reading and that affect their interpretations of that reading and the ways that texts shape children’s language, identities, and understandings of social reality. Scholars from a wide variety of disciplines—in education, library science, literary study, and psychology—analyze children’s reading behavior. While most scholarship manifests this interdisciplinarity to some degree, it also reflects the disciplines from which it emerges. Those within library science study what motivates children to read, what kinds of books they like, how much they read, and the factors that shape reading. Those in education study these topics as well but also seek to devise pedagogy that encourages particular kinds of reader response. Irrespective of discipline, however, the study of children as readers has been significantly influenced by a major shift in literary study away from formalist approaches toward a variety of approaches that attend to the significance of readers and their contexts. The most influential of the formalist scholars, the New Critics (themselves rejecting an older biographical and historically oriented scholarship) insisted that meaning was inherent in formal aspects of the literary work of art; reference to its author and context and the affective response of the reader was fallacious. Reader-response critics, however, assert that the response of the reader is critical to textual meaning. While the scholar may emphasize the significance of the text, the reader, or cultural context in the reader’s response, reader-response proponents insist that meaning in literature is not static but depends upon the reader.

General Overviews

The disciplinary character of McGillis 1996, which is focused on English, makes it most appropriate as reading in a children’s literature class. The educational orientation of Beach 1993 is more suited for those interested in the application of reader-response theory to teaching.

  • Beach, Richard. A Teacher’s Introduction to Reader-Response Theories. Urbana, IL: National Council of the Teachers of English, 1993.

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    Includes an overview as well as extensive bibliography.

  • McGillis, Roderick. “Investigating the Reading Subject: Response Criticism.” In The Nimble Reader: Literary Theory and Children’s Literature. By Roderick McGillis, 177–200. New York: Twayne, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    McGillis provides a useful overview of reader-response theory as it enables an understanding of children as readers. Includes examples of applications in the criticism of children’s literature.

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