Academic journal article Childhood Education

Students Compose Narratives from a Wordless Picturebook: The Red Book Travels to Ghana, China, and Back to the United States

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Students Compose Narratives from a Wordless Picturebook: The Red Book Travels to Ghana, China, and Back to the United States

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to put the notion of primacy of narratives (Bruner, 1990; Spiro & Taylor, 1987; Wells, 1985, 1986) to an international test by investigating how 3rd-graders from China, Ghana, and the United States used a wordless picturebook to compose oral discourse in their native languages. It is thought that narrative is the easier discourse type and thus is more suitable than others for beginning literacy instruction (Wells, 1985). Scholars (e.g., Langer, 1986) have found that children possess well-developed knowledge of both narrative and expository skills and are, indeed, able at age 8 to make "a fundamental distinction between reports as information-giving and stories as make-believe" (p. 3). Kamberelis (1998) suggests that although primary students display knowledge of both genres, they have substantially more knowledge about narratives than expositions because they are fed more narrative "literacy diets" (p. 7). Based on this foundation, the authors posed two research questions: 1) What are the oral genres composed by 3rd-graders in the contexts of a wordless picturebook? and 2) What similarities and differences in mastery of discourse styles are evident in the oral compositions of the multinational 3rd-graders?



A wordless picturebook was chosen as the prompt for the children's oral compositions. Such books are a unique springboard for building narratives because they can offer examples of characterization, sequencing, inference making, drawing conclusions, and a sense of story. The Red Book (Lehman, 2004) was selected and filled our criteria of an enjoyable picturebook that generates diverse interpretations and focuses on a topic central to a child's life--friendship (Vardell, Hadaway, & Young, 2006). We believed all children could "read" it, irrespective of their language.

The Red Book is about a little girl who finds a red book in the snow on her way to school. In this magical story, the little girl, who lives in the city, finds a map in the book and through that map can see a little boy who is on a desert island. The little boy likewise finds a red book and, again, can look through it to see the little girl in her city setting. At the end of the school day, the little girl purchases a clutch of balloons on strings and uses them to help her fly up in the sky and out of the city to the island. The reader then sees the new friends meet in the pages of the red book. At the end of the book, the reader is led to speculate that more magical friendships will occur: The red book is found on a city street and the reader also sees another boy on a bicycle carrying a copy of the red book. The complexity of "the book within a book," wrote a reviewer for The Horn Book, presents the reader with a "pleasing puzzle that will challenge young imaginations and intellects" (Barbara Lehman biography, n.d.). The Red Book received a Caldecott Honor in 2005.


Nine 3rd-graders--three from each country--participated in the study. Selection was based on teacher ratings of students' reading levels: above-average, average, and below-average. The Ghana school is rural and located in the central region of the country, the China school is in an affluent area of a coastal city, and the U.S. school is in a suburban area in the eastern part of the country. Each student was given time to look through the book independently before starting an oral composition in their native language. The dimensions of discourse analysis we chose focused on understanding participants' sense of story, narrative eloquence, and command of linguistic structures necessary for achieving that eloquence. We used three tiers of analyses: text structure, cohesion, and register. We adopted the definition of narrative text structure as outlined by researchers in the field (Halliday & Hasan, 1976; Hasan, 1989; Kamberelis, 1998; Pappas, 1993; Weaver & Kintsch, 1991). …

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