Reading children : how children and selectors perceive and construct the reading of fiction in two South African schools

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The purpose of this investigation was to uncover what went into the provision of books of fiction to schools; to examine the construction of readers by book selectors; to find out how children saw themselves as readers and what their own feelings were about reading; and to speculate on the extent to which policies are changing or can be changed. In order to do this I have looked at the situation in two schools with very different histories in the Western Cape. I have tried to establish what the conditions were that created their situation. Through speaking to various book selectors and to children to discover their responses to books, I have gathered material to comment on their perceptions. The schools were chosen as representative of two systems. The children are readers who speak for themselves and, to a certain extent, for their schoolmates. A basic assumption of this work is that both texts and readers are socially constructed. A second assumption, drawing on Wolfgang Iser, is that both texts and readers are active in the reading process. I am, therefore, interested in the "two basic thrusts" in recent research into children's literature identified by Joel Taxel (1989:32). The first is textual and assumes that meaning is determined by the text itself; the second is reader focused. Taxel contends that they can both be accommodated within a sociological perspective, as "literature constitutes an important source of children's knowledge about and orientation to the social world" (1989:33). Another influence on this work is what Charles Sarland has written about young people's reading in terms of culture and response. He has built on the research of Donald Fry, and recorded the voices of children responding to the voices of authors in order to understand the social meaning of what they say. In trying to set a frame within which to study the reading behaviour of children, I have drawn on Margaret Meek's work dealing with children's reading and the meaning of literacy. Ultimately, this thesis is a comment on and an analysis of the state of affairs at two schools at a time when the educational system is in a state of flux. It is an attempt to examine the dominant views of book selectors and to discuss them in relation to those of the children for whom they choose books.

Includes bibliographical references.