Defining literature is no easy feat. This is because literature can be used in a range of ways. Lukens (2007) suggest the most important aspect of literature is enjoyment. That is, the reader should be engaged with the text in an enjoyable manner. Further to this, Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl & Holliday (2010) talk about literature as communication through the method of “story” (p. 469). It is based on pedagogy and advocacy, but also is “distinctively literary” according to the National Curriculum Board (as cited in Winch et al., 2010, p. 471). Therefore, a text must be capable of developing a child’s literary skills to be defined as children’s literature. It is also important to consider that literature reflects the context and culture in which it is written (Winch et al., 2010).
Children’s literature provides children with countless opportunities to build their language skills. The English sector of the Australia Curriculum recognises the importance of literature by devoting a specific strand to it. This strand details through examining, responding to and creating literature, students will expand their language skills (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2013). In particular, it states that literature allows students to gain an understanding of how language can be used to “create particular emotional, intellectual and philosophical effects” (ACARA, 2013, p. 8). Therefore, literature provides an opportunity for students to see and use language in a range of ways they may not see outside of literature.
Winch et al. (2010) further suggest the importance of literature in language development by stating “literature is applied language” (p. 469). Through the created worlds and scenarios that literature provides, children are exposed to language of another context, time or place.
One example of quality children’s literature is Goodnight, mice! (Watts, 2011). This is a beautiful book about a family of mice and the rituals they go through when going to bed. The most obvious use of language features throughout this book is that of rhyme. Rhyme is part of the phonological aspects of language (Winch et al., 2010). Having elements such as rhyme helps children to identify features of language within a text (Winch et al., 2010). Watts uses the lines “skipping and skittering up the hall, skidding and sliding and – Careful! Don’t fall!” This not only includes rhyme but also the blend “sk” is evident. When used in the classroom, the teacher might make a point of highlighting these factors to bring the students’ awareness to these features. This would bring the use of the text past simply enjoyment, to focus on language.
A second book that I consider to be great children’s literature is Bear and Chook by the sea (Shanahan, 2009). This book is about two friends, Bear and Chook, who set on an adventure to the sea. Shanahan (2009) uses repetition and rhythm through this book. In addition to this, Shanahan (2009) uses wonderful personification and metaphors throughout the text. Language features of this nature help the reader imagine the world that is being created by the author (Winch et al., 2010). It also forms a connection between word and meaning for the child (Winch et al., 2010).
Image sourced from http://www.emmaquay.com/books.html#bc2
Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority. (2013). The Australian Curriculum: English. Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/English/Literature
Lukens, R. (2007). A critical handbook of children’s literature. (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Shanahan, L. (2009). Bear and Chook at the sea. Sydney, NSW: Hachette Australia.
Watts, F. (2011). Goodnight, mice! Sydney, NSW: Harper Collins.
Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.