Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Young Children Engage with the Metafictive in Picture Books

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Young Children Engage with the Metafictive in Picture Books

Article excerpt

Changes in contemporary picture books: Postmodernism, metafiction and radical change

Today's children live in a multimedia world characterised by fragmentation, juxtaposition of differing forms, and an ever-increasing diversity of symbolic representations. With respect to children's literature, a broadening range of print texts is available to readers. Various conceptual and theoretical frameworks have been proposed to explain the changes in contemporary children's literature. Several individuals note how the changes in current children's (and young adult) literature reflect the broader historical, social, and cultural movement referred to as postmodernism (Coles & Hall, 2001; Goldstone, 1998, 2001/2002; Lewis, 2001; McCallum, 1996; Yearwood, 2002). Lewis identifies several key features that characterise living in the postmodern world: indeterminacy, fragmentation, decanonisation, irony, hybridisation, and performance and participation (2001, pp. 88-91). Because writers and illustrators have been exposed to 'the same postmodernising influences as everyone else ... it would be reasonable to suppose that such influences might find their way into books' (Lewis, 2001, p. 99). According to Nikolajeva 'an ever-growing segment of contemporary children's literature is transgressing its own boundaries ... exhibiting the most prominent features of postmodernism, such as genre eclecticism, disintegration of traditional narrative structures, polyphony, intersubjectivity and metafiction' (1998, p. 222).

Although examples of metafiction have existed since the beginning of literary publishing, Lewis writes that, 'one can see why metafictive devices are essential to the postmodernist enterprise, with its sustained attack on all manifestations of authoritative order and unity' (2001, p. 94). Metafiction draws the attention of readers to how texts work and to how meaning is created. According to Waugh, metafiction is 'fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality' (1984, p. 2). Waugh discusses the metafictional novel and describes various techniques authors use to create metafictional texts. One common aspect of the discussions about metafiction is its self-referentiality or self-consciousness; metafictive texts draw attention to their status as fiction and text through the use of a number of devices or techniques. McCallum writes that it is necessary to consider 'the specific strategies through which metafictions play with literary and cultural codes and conventions' (1996, p. 400). In picture books, metafictive devices can be employed with both the verbal and the visual text. Illustrations can reveal, both independently of and in conjunction with the words, how the fictional reality of the story is constructed (and thereby comment about how our world is constructed).

Some of the narrative and discursive devices found in metafictive forms of adult, young adult, and children's literature include: manifold or multistranded narratives, multiple narrators, nonlinear and non-sequential plots, narrators who address the reader or comment on their own narrations, narrative and illustrative framing devices, intertextualities, and parodic appropriations (Pantaleo, 2004a). Generally, metafictive techniques are used in combination and the synergy of multiple devices serves to amplify the fictional status and self-conscious nature of a text. The list of metafictive devices in Appendix A is neither exhaustive nor definitive. The devices are not mutually exclusive and there is overlap among many of the techniques. Further, some of the more general metafictive techniques described in the literature could subsume several of the specific devices. The common element of the various devices is their power to distance readers from text, often, frustrating traditional reading expectations and practices, and positioning 'readers in more active interpretive roles' (McCallum, 1996, p. …

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