Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Diverse Narrative Structures in Contemporary Picturebooks: Opportunities for Children's Meaning-Making

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Diverse Narrative Structures in Contemporary Picturebooks: Opportunities for Children's Meaning-Making

Article excerpt

The authors discuss how picturebooks with complex and diverse narrative structures can enhance students' development as readers, writers, and imaginative thinkers.

THOSE READERS FAMILIAR with The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (Scieszka, 1992) know that one of the final endpapers appears before the end of the book. Jack speaks directly to readers and explains his reasons for creating this disruption in both narrative and conventional placement of a peritextual element: "Shhhhh. Be very quiet. I moved the endpaper up here so the Giant would think the book is over. The big lug is finally asleep. Now I can sneak out of here. Just turn the page very quietly and that will be The..." (n.p.). A turn of the page reveals another interruption - the Little Red Hen. She continues recounting 'her' story, a narrative that has been told in multiple installments throughout the picturebook.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which is discussed later in this article, is one of many contemporary picturebooks that feature a nonlinear and complex narrative structure (see the Appendix for a sample of other picturebooks with diverse narrative structures). In this article, we situate our discussion of diverse narrative structures in the context of oral storytelling practices and postmodern picturebooks. We focus on three contemporary picturebooks: Don't Read This Book! (Lewis, 2009), Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall Thin Tale (Hopkins, 2008), and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (Scieszka, 1992), and examine the various narrative structures evident in each selection of literature. Our article concludes with a discussion of how picturebooks with diverse narrative structures can augment students' development as readers, writers, and creative thinkers.

Contextualizing Diverse Narrative Structures

Narrative, which is derived from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount," is indeed frequently defined as 'a narrated account.' Although the word 'story' is often used as a synonym, the term narrative can also be used to describe the technique or process or art of narrating. All narratives have a structure - a framework that underlies the order in which a narrative is presented to narratees - those to whom the story is addressed.

Many historical, cultural and social factors need to be considered when examining the structural framework of oral and written narratives, and when considering students' narrative competence, their "ability to produce and understand narratives" (Prince, 2003, p. 61). The longitudinal research conducted by Wells (1986) documented how young children's lack of experience with narrative (i.e. listening to stories read aloud) negatively affected their academic success in school. Through multiple experiences with oral and/or written stories, individuals construct schemata or cognitive representations of story structures, elements, and genres. Indeed, research by Heath (1983), McCabe (1997), and Bliss and McCabe (2008) has revealed significant differences in how children construct oral narratives. Heath's (1983) seminal ethnographic research described how the specific features of three communities' storytelling traditions and narrative structures affected their children's interactions and achievement at school. McCabe (1997), whose research revealed cultural differences in the structure of children's oral narratives, wrote that many European North American children are "equipped for the kind of stories they hear in school," the kind that have a "clear beginning, middle and end" and that "contain a clear temporal sequence of events that matches some sequence of events in the real world" (p. 456). However, not all children share the same experience with linear sequenced narratives. Indeed, there is more than one way to tell a story and various narrative structures should be acknowledged, appreciated, and discussed in classrooms.

Several theorists and researchers have developed or embraced a structural approach to analyze narratives. …

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