An examination of children's inter-action with fiction, leading to the development of methodologies to elicit and communicate their responses
This thesis provides an examination and analysis of the social contexts of children's response to fiction in order to contribute to a theoretical perspective of literary response as a continuous process. The absence of a consideration of the way that readers are socially constructed renders any conception of literary response incomplete, and a discussion of textual, psychoanalytic and cultural theories of response reveals a gap which Children's Literature must fill. The marginalisation of Children's Literature within literary discourses silences children as readers by denying the recognition of literary engagement inherent in early experiences with fiction. In addition, an investigation of the meta-discourse which surrounds Children's Literature, through criticism, education and provision, demonstrates the way that adult mediations between children and fiction frequently interrupt an innate desire for an authoritative position for the reader within the text, replacing dynamic creative engagement with static modes of reading. In particular, an analysis of the position of children's books, including the processes for editing, selection and marketing, makes it clear, for the first time, that the social contexts of children's fiction, from jacket design to library selection, influence the construction of readers. A new method of empirical research, based on psychoanalysis, phenomenography and Chambers's 'Tell Me' approach to booktalk, provides evidence of the interplay of desire and control in the social construction of readers and reinforces the need for shared discourses. This method is illustrated by the Book Choice Study, consisting of seven individual case studies with children, their parents and teachers, which reveals the importance of an individual's reading history in the promotion of either dynamic or static modes of reading. The study shows that children who engage in a shared discourse about fiction are more likely to participate in a 'literary' engagement than those who experience a divided discourse, confirming the need for a construction of response that includes children and their books.