Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The role of truth in literature for children

A brief search in the ERIC database today generated a citation of considerable interest:

Representations of the Moon in Children's Literature: An Analysis of Written and Visual Text.
Author(s): Trundle, Kathy Cabe; Troland, Thomas H.; Pritchard, T. Gail
Source: Journal of Elementary Science Education, v20 n1 p17-28 Win 2008. 12 pp.

Of course, the bookcharmer's whimsy is tickled by this title, but the whiff of opportunity for comparison is also noticeable. If teaching children incorrect information about the moon is problematic, what about misrepresentations about American history in literature marketed to children?

So let's briefly consider the arguments of Trundle et al:

On page 17, the whimsy is ameliorated but explanation of the significance of the topic at hand, "Does it really matter if students or adults understand the phases of the moon? Perhaps not for the purposes of everyday life; yet the familiar cycle of lunar phases,so beautiful and so evocative to the human race, is a phenomenon of nature that begs understanding. Unfortunately, misrepresentations of the moon in children’s literature do little to foster this goal."

On page 24, the issue of churlishness is addressed, "Perhaps it seems churlish to complain about drawings of lunar phases in children’s books; these books are literature, not science. It would also seem churlish to complain about Van Gogh’s exaggerated stars in Starry Night or about scenes in Star Trek that could not actually take place. Yet, education strives, among other things, to convey an accurate understanding of the natural world. The results presented in this article clearly establish that illustrations in children’s books reinforce inaccurate conceptions of lunar phases."

Trundle's argument gets at the heart of what I would like to examine in the role of books like Caddie Woodlawn which have been used to teach American history--what level of truth is presented to readers, and what consequence does it have?

Thank you, Trundle et al.

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