WEEK SIX – Stop, Start, Keep.

Before beginning ESH151 Children’s Literature Studies, I was a little nervous. I am doing this unit as an elective in my final semester of my Arts degree, and I had never done a unit from outside the faculty of Arts before. This unit’s content and assessment sounded completely different to anything I had done so far in my degree, which was quite daunting. Now, six weeks in to the semester, I feel like I have settled into the unit reasonably well. This blog post has been a great opportunity for me to reflect on what I have learnt so far, and how I can improve my learning experience.

On reflecting on the books I have used so far in this unit, I have realised that I have stayed well within my comfort zone. Almost all of the books I have discussed in my blog posts have been ones that I am familiar with, or at least books in which I am familiar with the author. While this has felt like a good way to ‘ease’ into the subject, I think it has also restricted my experience in this unit so far. I know I would benefit from exploring a wider range of books and authors. I am looking forward to the upcoming modules in this unit, as looking at the reading list, there seems to be a large number of books I can choose from which I am not familiar with. I will make a conscious effort to stop restricting myself, and explore the vast array of quality children’s literature available. 

Something that I must start doing in relation to this unit is be more active on the discussion boards. At the start of the semester, I made sure that I contributed to the discussion boards, however, the past few weeks, I have focussed on my blog. On reflection, I have realised that this is really a missed opportunity. Discussing concepts prior to posting my blog could have been extremely valuable – getting feedback from other students and teaching staff could have helped my understanding and thus improved my blog posts. To get the most out of this unit, I need to start dedicating time to contributing to the discussion boards.

Something I will keep doing in relation to this unit – and others – is think carefully about my word choice. In the past, I have been frustrated with myself for focussing on the wording of assignment pieces. At times, I know I have felt like I am wasting time by trying to perfect the wording of each sentence. However, this unit has made me realise the importance of word choice. Language is such a powerful device, and the words I choose to use in assessment pieces can have many different effects. Although it might take a little extra time, I plan to keep focussing on my word choice and sentence structure.

WEEK FIVE – Critical Literacy

Critical literacy can be explained as a method of analysing texts that highlights their constructed nature. Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl, and Holliday (2007, 421) broadly describe critical literacy as a type of ‘forensic science’ applied to a text. Critical literacy is a complex concept which has been defined by theorists and educators in many different ways, however, in my understanding, critical literacy enables ‘readers’ (in the most broad sense of the word, including viewers, listeners etc.) to realise the influences behind texts, the way that the text is positioning them, and the points of view the text is representing and silencing.

It is important to note that no text, be it written, visual, spoken, multimedia or other, is neutral (Tasmanian Department of Education, 2011). Texts are greatly influenced by the experiences, beliefs, biases and values of their creators (Mulhern and Gunding, 2011). Further, readers bring their own perspectives and prior knowledge to texts, which also influence how texts are understood (Mulhern and Gunding). Critical literacy involves an active approach to texts  in order to question and challenge embedded attitudes, values and beliefs in both the text itself, and the reader. Thus, critical literacy is relevant not only the reading of texts but also the creation of texts; it involves understanding how different features of texts can be used to position and influence others. As Rowan (2001, 45) notes, both ‘analysis’ and ‘production’ of texts require similar kinds of skills. Essentially, critical literacy is intended to make the reader aware of the influences behind texts and examine how these texts structure and create the world around them (Condren, Waldrip and Knight, 2003).

There are many different ways of practising critical literacy. Across the literature I have read so far, several commentators have suggested breaking down a text by asking questions about it (for examples see Rowan, 2001, 47; Winch et al, 2007, 423; 427; 428; Mulhern and Gunding, 2011, 13-14; Tasmanian Department of Education, 2011, 3-4). Rowan (47) suggests a number of questions that can be asked of a text in order to understand how and why it has been constructed in a particular way: 

Who/What is included?
Who/What is excluded?
What are various individuals associated with? Who gets to do what?
What is represented as natural and normal?
Who/What is valued? How is this communicated?
How does the text reproduce or challenge mythical norms?

Being critically literate is extremely important in the context of the 21st century, with its plethora of text types and continually expanding forms of communication. Mulhern and Gunding (2011, 6) argue that individuals need to use critical literacy skills in order to ‘sort through and critique the messages that they encounter in any given situation to avoid be manipulated, and to become savvy consumers’. Condren, Waldrip and Knight (2003, 14) go further, arguing critical literacy is a way of creating a ‘more equitable and less discriminatory’ society, by empowering people to change the ways in which they live and the roles they adopt in life. In any case, it is clear that critical literacy is an important skill for students to develop. This is reflected by the Tasmania Education Department (2011), which also states the importance of critical literacy, noting that it is one theory underpinning current English syllabuses.



Condren, T., Waldrip, B., & Knight, B.A. (2003). Being critical of critical literacy teaching. English Leadership Quarterly, 26 (1), 13-18.

Mulhern, M. & Gunding, B. (2011). What’s critical about critical literacy? English Quarterlly Canada, 42 (1), 6-23.

Rowan, L. (2001) Write me in: Inclusive texts in the primary classroom. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association.

Tasmanian Department of Education. (2011). Critical Literacy. Retrieved From https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CEIQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2F203.10.46.30%2Fmre%2F621%2Fmod13%2FCriticalLiteracy-TasmanianDeptEducation28-12-11.docx&ei=K0UQUpLOKquFiAfHtIHoDw&usg=AFQjCNFve9reu1ucdOHNiBJLT8G_FK_uPw&sig2=1YDd4iQ1aVcsIjHjULEyjA

Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2007). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (3rd ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.

WEEK FOUR – Visual Elements in Libby Gleeson and Armin Greder’s ‘I am Thomas’

The visual elements of children’s books are vitally important in regards to the meaning taken from texts. Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl and Holliday (2010) note that combinations of words, images and shapes operate together to convey meanings that can be quite sophisticated or abstract. Visual literacy refers to the ability to work out what these combinations mean, analyse the ‘power of the image’, and the ‘how’ of its meaning in a particular context (Winch et al, 2010, 620). The ability to do so enhances the reading experience and enables readers to have a deeper understanding of the text. 

I am Thomas by Libby Gleeson and Armin Greder (2011) depicts the way in which society demands and accepts conformity. Thomas faces demand from many different people in his life (teachers, parents, psychologists, politicians, army leaders and religious leaders), reflected poignantly in the repeated words ‘do as we say, think like us, be like us’ (Gleeson and Greder, 2011). I am Thomas uses an extremely wide range of visual elements which could be analysed and discussed almost endlessly. This particular blog post will discuss the way symbolism, colour, framing and angles are used to add depth and meaning to the story, providing for a powerful and engaging reading experience.


The opening pages of I am Thomas depict the words ‘I am Thomas’ surrounded by a variety of items; visual literacy enables readers to take meaning from them. For example, the kite and toy clown suggest that Thomas is a child that likes to play. The snorkel, book, world globe and model plane, ship and bus suggest that Thomas is adventurous and inquisitive. Symbolism is also present in the numerous crowd scenes depicted in the book, in which members of the crowds do not have eyes. This can be seen as symbolising the way that people blindly conform to the influences and pressures of society.

The use of colour in I am Thomas is effective in demonstrating the difference between Thomas’s true interests and feelings, and the concepts of acceptable social behaviours and opinions being forced upon him. While all of the items depicted in the opening pages of the book are in colour, from that point on, the colour in the book becomes more limited. For example, on the following pages, a few of Thomas’s coloured interests are present, however, school work, formal clothes and depictions of people trying to control Thomas are illustrated in black and white. As the book continues, depictions of Thomas’s coloured interests grow less and less. When Thomas rejects the ideas and expectations society is trying to force onto him, the amount of colour in the pictures increases again.


Framing is also an important visual feature of I am Thomas. The black and white images throughout the book are placed within frames, whereas the colour images are scattered around outside of the frames. This implies that the things that Thomas enjoys and would like to pursue are outside of the restrictions and expectations society has placed on him. 

The angles used in I am Thomas place the reader in the position of Thomas, providing for a confronting experience. For example, the book is full of images of domineering figures looking down on the reader. In several instances, these figures are pointing at the reader, and all have unpleasant expressions on their faces, ranging from frowns to wide open mouths suggestive of yelling. Placing the reader in the position of Thomas makes them feel the discomfort of being demanded to conform.


I am Thomas is an excellent example of the power of visual elements in children’s literature. In particular, the symbolism, colour, framing and angles used in the book add depth and meaning to the text, and provide for a powerful reading experience.


Gleeson, L., & Greder, A. (2011). I am Thomas. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin.

I am Thomas [Images]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2220

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.

Week 3: How language features enhance Deborah Diesen’s The pout-pout fish

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and and Reporting Authority (2013) define language features as ‘the features of language that support meaning’. An author chooses specific language features deliberately according to the audience the text is aimed at, the purpose of the text, and the mode or medium in which it is created. This post will discuss the use of illustrations, repetition, rhyme, rhythm and tone in Deborah Diesen’s book The pout-pout fish (2008).


The pout-pout fish tells the story of a fish named Mr Fish, who is always sad and pouting. Throughout the book, Mr Fish meets a number of other fish, who all try to cheer him up. He maintains his gloomy disposition until the last fish he meets gives him a kiss, at which point he decides that he is not sad any more, and is no longer a ‘pout-pout’ fish, but a ‘kiss-kiss’ fish. It is a heart-warming story with a great message for children about reaching out to make others happy. The pout-pout fish uses numerous language features to make the book enjoyable for children and encourage participation.

Illustrations: Illustrations support and enhance The pout-pout fish. Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl, and Holliday (2010) suggest that pictures often provide the details of setting and characters even more so than the words. The opening line of The pout-pout fish provides the setting for the story – ‘deep in the water’ – however, the text of The pout-pout fish provides little more description of the setting. The colourful, entertaining illustrations are the main source of information for the setting, and invite readers in to the story.

Repetition: Another major language feature of The pout-pout fish is repetition. Winch et al (2010) note that the use of simple, repetitive text is good for young readers, and enhances the effectiveness of the text. In The pout-pout fish, the refrain

‘I’m a pout-pout fish,
with a pout-pout face,
so I spread the dreary-wearies
all over the place’

is repeated five times throughout the book. The repetition of these words enhances the text by engaging children and encouraging them to join in. Further, it increases children’s familiarity with the words, their sound and their spelling.

Rhyme: Another main language feature of The pout-pout fish is rhyme. For example, the story opens:

‘Deep in the water
where the fish hang out
lives a glum gloomy swimmer
with an ever-present pout’

The text consistently follows this ABCB rhyming pattern. This enhances the book by making it enjoyable for children, allowing them to experiment with words and sounds as they try to predict what will happen next that will fit with the rhyming pattern.

Tone and Rhythm: The illustrations, rhyming and repetition used in The pout-pout fish set a playful mood for the book. The rhyming also ensures quite a fast, upbeat rhythm. However, this tone and rhythm is altered by the use of the words ‘Blub, Bluuub, Bluuuuuuub’ after each refrain. The words ‘Blub, Bluuub, Bluuuuuub’ are written in large text, each time taking up a whole page of the book. The words and their presentation slow the pace of the text, and also accentuate the meaning of the text by creating a gloomy atmosphere. The slow pace and gloomy tone contrast with the rest of the book, and allow children time to reflect on Mr Fish’s glum disposition, providing opportunity for children to understand the emotion Mr Fish is feeling.


The pout-pout fish is a great example of the ways in which authors deliberately use language features to enhance their works. In The pout-pout fish, illustrations, repetition, rhyme, rhythm and tone have been used deliberately to provide children with joy and entertainment, and to encourage them to become engaged and participate in the story.


Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (May 2013). English: Foundation to year ten curriculum (Version.5.0). Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/English/Curriculum/F-10

Diesen, D. (2008). The pout-pout fish. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The pout-pout fish [Images]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.booktopia.com.au/the-pout-pout-fish-deborah-diesen/prod9780374360962.html

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.

WEEK TWO: Children’s Literature – Definition and Importance in Language Development

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.