Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

In Search of the Ideal Reader for Nonfiction Children's Books about El Día De Los Muertos

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

In Search of the Ideal Reader for Nonfiction Children's Books about El Día De Los Muertos

Article excerpt

This study critically analyzes eight popular nonfiction children's books about el Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) that are circulated by major public libraries.

IN MAINSTREAM AMERICAN CULTURE, death is not usually talked about openly. It is discussed privately among adults because death is often regarded as a final ending. Nevertheless, many elementary school teachers discuss el Día de los Muertos with their students. The celebration of el Día de los Muertos, in contrast to dominant ideology, commemorates death as an inseparable part of life; death is not an end, but rather a transition in the life cycle. Many Mexican and Mexican American communities observe el Día de los Muertos with traditional practices that honor and welcome the spirits of deceased loved ones in an annual reunion each November. Some teachers borrow nonfiction children's books about el Día de los Muertos from public libraries and utilize them in their classrooms as part of a culturally competent and responsive curriculum to enhance their students' cultural literacy and affirm their students' diverse local and global experiences (Ladson-Billings, 2001; Villegas & Lucas, 2002).

Given that the ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity of the United States is growing rapidly and shifting the makeup of the nation's schools (Banks & Banks, 2010), there has never been a more important time for educators, the majority of whom are white women (US Department of Education, 2008), to implement children's literature as a vehicle of multicultural education. Thus, my objective for this paper is to critically analyze the eight nonfiction children's books about el Día de los Muertos that an award-winning Midwestern public library system circulates to local teachers and library patrons. Over the last two years, each of the 49 copies of these eight library books was in circulation from mid- October to mid- November, while nearly all of the copies were available in other months. My analysis is guided by one question: Who are the ideal readers for these books and how are they positioned in relation to the celebration of el Día de los Muertos?

After establishing a conceptual framework and providing background information about el Día de los Muertos, I will discuss my analysis of the books, the results of which indicate that nonfiction multicultural children's literature is not ideologically neutral.

Conceptual Framework

This study is grounded in socio-cultural theory, which suggests that readers, texts, and meaning are intrinsically connected and indivisible of the local, social, cultural, historical, and global contexts from which they originate (Galda & Beach, 2001). Literacy and thinking are influenced by one's membership in different social and/or cultural groups that, via various social practices, inform the ways people read and think about certain types of text (Gee, 2007). Consequently, schools can reinforce mainstream literacy expectations in the form of school-based literacy practices (Heath, 1983), which are influenced by the goals and ideals of society's middle class elites who "control knowledge, ideas, 'culture,' and values" (Gee, 2008, p. 62). Since the majority of teachers in the United States are from rural or suburban middle class backgrounds (Zeichner, Grant, Gay, Gillette, Valli, & Villegas, 1998), the link between middle class ways of being and school is reinforced (Seidl, 2007).

It is also likely that some teachers will perform in the same ways their teachers once performed (Britzman, 2003; Lortie, 1975), maintaining cultural models from one generation to the next. Like silent movies of the mind, cultural models include commonplace stories, images, and ideas that show an idealized concept of "normal," which can differ across cultural groups (Gee, 2008). The cultural models of teachers who are members of the dominant cultural group might reflect values and perspectives that are complicit with mainstream oppression of minority groups, and could be a detriment to students who are not members of the same ethnic, cultural, or social groups as their teachers (Gee, 2008). …

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