Children's Literature Digital Resources: Stimulating Imaginative Responses to Literature

Article excerpt

'Books can offer young people a window to new, unfamiliar territory--a country or culture they have never been to or a mirror in which they see themselves and their own world.' (Hateley, 2011)

As is evident from the National Curriculum's renewed emphasis on literature, traditional books remain important even in a digital age. Books actively engage the imagination, encouraging children to create their own images, ill in textual gaps, try out new identities and consider different ways of looking at familiar scenarios. This paper sets out to demonstrate how digital technologies can work with literature to bring the past into the present.

Literature is a source of enjoyment for its readers, and can stimulate imaginative and thoughtful responses in the classroom. Consequently, we, a team of researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, would like to introduce teachers and teacher librarians to a full-text database of early Australian children's texts which has the potential to enliven your classroom reading activities.

One of the exciting possibilities that the digital age provides is the digitisation of old, rare, or outof-print books that might otherwise be difficult to access. Excited by the possibility of digitising Australian children's literature, we have spent the last three years selecting, locating, and digitising early Australian children's texts.

The result of our research, the Children's Literature Digital Resources (CLDR) project, is a digital literature resource that will benefit teachers, students, researchers, and scholars of Australian literature for many years to come. Accessed online, the CLDR contains over 500 children's literary texts that were first published between 1851 and 1945. The works cover a range of genres, and include novels, poetry, fairy tales, and pictures books.

The possibilities offered by the CLDR are vast. All of the works are key-word searchable; you can search across the CLDR corpus, and uncover thematic links and other connections between texts. The CLDR also contains scholarly articles about the primary texts which examine issues such as representations of indigenous Australians, and constructions of national identity and gender.

Additionally, to make the resource even more useful for teachers and librarians, it will include a number of distinct teaching resources called Learning Trails. These Learning Trails will provide suggestions for teachers for combining CLDR texts with thematically linked contemporary texts in ways that address core curriculum areas. The first trail will focus on Australia's engagement with war. The guiding premise behind the composition of these trails is that teachers would most likely use the CLDR texts in conjunction with contemporary texts as well as various web-based resources. The following examples and images from the CLDR demonstrate some of this potential for the classroom.

Old Texts, New Contexts

All of the works in the CLDR were irst published between 1851 and 1945. Because of their age, the works show us a glimpse of Australian lives and preoccupations of the past, and can help us to contextualise some of our contemporary concerns. As the works are digitised, readers can access, read, and search these 19th and 20th century texts in an entirely 21st century way.

Some of the books tell unusual stories, like The Demon McGuire (1870), which tells the tale, in verse and pictures, of a huge demon who terrorises early Sydney:

   With hair dripping brimstone, with eyes flashing fire
   His mother a whirlwind, an earthquake his sire!
   His smallest incisor's thrice bigger than you
   And 400 feet is the length of his shoe!

Some books talk frankly about war, from the perspective of the children of soldiers, or try to encourage patriotic feelings in young readers. Unk White's The Aussies are Here (1943) contains characters who are, essentially, Australian soldiers in the guise of native animals. …