The term ‘children’s literature’ is complex and difficult to define. Broadly, children’s literature can be described as material produced to inform and/or entertain children and young adults. Children’s literature generally relates to children’s range of experiences and is told in language that children can understand (Lukens, 2007). A wide variety of forms may be described as children’s literature, including (but not limited to) picture books, novels, poetry, short stories, plays and non-fiction. Further, it can be argued that multi-modal texts such as films, websites and computer presentations may be considered children’s literature (Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl, & Holliday, 2010).
While children’s literature has many significant purposes and functions, this particular blog entry will discuss children’s literature as a way of enhancing children’s language development. Learning to use language effectively is vital, as it is important in all areas of social interaction, including education, work and leisure (Winch et al, 2010).
Children’s literature can enhance language development in several ways. It can assist in the expansion of children’s vocabularies – it introduces children to words they might not otherwise be exposed to, and contributes to the bank of words and images that are used to formulate and communicate thoughts and ideas (Winch et al, 2010). Further, exposure to children’s literature teaches children to recognise words, as well making them familiar with pronunciation, spelling, punctuation and structure (Matthews, 2011). Importantly, children’s literature can motivate children and foster a positive attitude towards reading, which can have a significant impact on their future success not only in literacy, but also in their lives.
Grandma McGarvey paints the shed (Hessell, 1994) is an example of a book that supports children’s language development in numerous ways, including through features such as:
Repetition: The line ‘When Grandma McGarvey painted the shed’ is repeated throughout the book in a predictable way. Such repetition familiarises readers with both the pronunciation and the spelling of the words. Repetition also allows children to join in and predict what Grandma McGarvey will do next – enhancing their comprehension and understanding of words and structure.
Illustrations: The vibrant and detailed pictures supplementing the text encourage children to make connections between words and images.
Adjectives: A wide range of descriptive words are used in the book, including ‘floppy’, ‘wiggly’, ‘dribbly’, ‘splotchetty’, ‘rusty’ and ‘spectacular’, providing the potential to expand a child’s vocabulary.
Synonyms: The book can teach children about different words with similar meanings. For example, the book provides that Grandma McGarvey ‘didn’t use ordinary paint’, and that she ‘didn’t use regular brushes’.
Sail away: The ballad of Skip and Nell (Fox, 1986) is another children’s book which supports language development in numerous ways, including through features such as:
Combination of simple and complex words: Sail away uses mostly simple language, but includes some less well known words, such as ‘dwell’, ‘kith’, ‘kin’, ‘swell’, and ‘spinnaker’. The combination of simple and complex words challenges children without overwhelming them, and provides an opportunity to expand vocabularies.
Rhyme: The rhyming style of the book encourages children to listen to the sound of words and recognise and think of words that sound similar.
Alliteration: Alliteration is also featured in Sail away, for example: ‘the wind died down, the Dinki Di stood still’. Such alliteration can increase phonemic awareness, and thus increase children’s ability to ‘hear, segment and manipulate sounds in speech’ (Winch et al 2010, p. 570).
Grandma McGarvey paints the shed and Sail away: The ballad of Skip and Nell both demonstrate the way in which children’s literature can support children’s language development, which is an essential part of education and life.
Fox, M. (1986). Sail away: The ballad of Skip and Nell. Lindfield, NSW: Scholastic Press.
Hessell, J. (1994). Grandma McGarvey paints the shed. Gosford, NSW: Scholastic Press.
Lukens, R. (2007). A critical handbook of children’s literature (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Matthews, L. (2011). The role of literature in language and literacy learning. Practically Primary, 16 (3), 18-20.
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.