Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Engaging Middle-Grades Readers through Graphic Nonfiction Trade Books: A Critical Perspective on Selected Titles Recommended for Classroom Use

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Engaging Middle-Grades Readers through Graphic Nonfiction Trade Books: A Critical Perspective on Selected Titles Recommended for Classroom Use

Article excerpt

IN A RECENT ARTICLE (Möller, 2015), I analyzed three graphic nonfiction educational product series, offering models to support evaluation and selection for use with students. My intent was to demonstrate the possibilities for integrating attention to aesthetic appreciation, critical reflection, and content information across multiple formats and texts to promote authentic engagement and learning opportunities. Colman (2007) highlighted some misconceptions about nonfiction that impact the kinds of spaces that are created for readers. A key fallacy is the notion that "fiction is read for pleasure and nonfiction is read for information," which "miseducates students about what to expect" (p. 259) from both and fails to "prepare students to experience the range of possibilities" (p. 260).

Still, the assumption often is that when reading nonfiction, one is to adopt what Rosenblatt (1994) called an efferent stance. From such a stance, the "reader's attention is focused primarily on what will remain as the residue after the reading-the information to be acquired" (p. 23). Fiction, it is often presumed, leads readers more frequently to adopt what she labeled an aesthetic stance, in which "the reader's primary concern is with what happens during the actual reading event" (p. 24). This is a false dichotomy. In actuality, a single text-fiction or nonfiction-may invite both efferent and aesthetic readings and responses. Indeed, many transactions blend these stances as readers' attention shifts. Rosenblatt noted, "the distinction between nonaesthetic and aesthetic lies not in the presence or absence of emotive and cognitive elements but in the primary direction and focus of the reader's attention" (p. 45). Although a text may provide a general guide to a reader in the process of selecting a stance, "not even the total text represents an absolute set of guides; multiple and equally valid possibilities are often inherent in the same text in its transactions with different readers under different conditions" (p. 75).

From an aesthetic stance, a reader engages in the personal and qualitative elements of his or her lived experience with the text; emotion and thought, affective and cognitive aspects, are fused. In this article, I extend my previous exploration into nonfiction graphic literature, first by reviewing recent recommendations in a published guide (Herald, 2011) and then by examining a selection of additional graphic nonfiction trade books that might encourage students, as Rosenblatt (1994) hoped, to develop such an "integrated sensibility" (p. 46) and "to participate as fully as possible in the potentialities of the text" (p. 69).

Starting With a Published Overview

Published in 2011, Herald's guide to graphic fiction and nonfiction offers booklists and brief annotations of materials available for librarians and teachers who want to include more visual image literature in their collections. However, the book is less helpful in terms of supporting critical evaluation, and its nonfiction selection is slim. In addition, rather than being incorporated throughout the book-into chapters focused on "Action and Adventure" (Chapter 1), "Mystery and Scary Stories" (Chapter 5), or "Contemporary Life" (Chapter 6)-nonfiction titles are lumped together with historical fiction and hybrid-genre titles in the book's final chapter, entitled "Educational" (Chapter 8). Such a categorization of literature could further the misunderstanding that learning only occurs through nonfiction or fictionalized accounts of actual events, or mistakenly reinforce the opposite: that quality nonfiction is meant to teach more than to be appreciated and savored. Despite his classification system, Herald does not seem to subscribe fully to either myth. He wrote that these "educational books...not only help engage young readers, but also allow them to learn. [and] appeal to children with avid interests in these subjects or who enjoy 'true stories'" (p. …

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