viernes, 30 de septiembre de 2016

What do Human Rights have to do with children’s and young adult literature?: Considerations from Mexico

This entry bridges the previous phase of this blog, related to the "Reading Changes" project in Mexico, and its new phase, which is still "under construction". Coinciding with Banned Books Week, in this entry, Áurea reflects on the relationship between human rights, censorship and children's and young adult literature in Mexico.

Áurea Xaydé Esquivel Flores has a Bachelor's in Latin American Literature from the Universidad Autónoma de México and is a student of the Master's programme in Modern Literature at the Universidad Iberoamericana; her passions are children's and young adult literature, graphic narratives, literary theory and comparative literature. 

       In 2015, the Juridical Investigations Institute of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, through the Opinion and Applied Investigations Department, began a reconnaissance mission on knowledge, notions, attitudes and representations of the Mexican people regarding social topics. For this, they implemented 25 different surveys to 1,200 people over 15 years old throughout the country, thus offering a scaled-down picture of what is happening in a territory of over 112, 336, 538 inhabitants (INEGI n. d.). One of these surveys revolves around concepts such as childhood, adolescence and youth, their life circumstances, development possibilities, violence exposure, etc. Said study reveals valuable results when we try to understand and build hypothesis around children’s and young adult literature, its production, assessment, and distribution as a social and cultural phenomenon.   

          The first hard data we’re interested in (to trace a perspective exercise) is related to the total Mexican Republic population: in 2010, out of 112,336,538 inhabitants, 62,222,356 were between 0 and 29 years old (Fuentes et al. 2015:37); in other words, over half of the Mexican population was young. However, without going into the specifics about what it is to be young in biological, psychological and juridical terms, such a condition comes with a social disadvantage that stems from the contingent nature of the human rights given to this group; that is, the younger an individual, the fewer his or her recognized rights. For example:
·      When asked about what rights children should have, only a 65.9% (out of 1,200 surveyed people) admitted that they should have those stated by law. What about the 34.1% left? 26% said that they only should have those which their parents grant them, 5.3% said that they have no rights since they are minors, and 2.8% gave a different answer, didn’t know or didn’t answer at all[1] (45).
·      When asked about what rights teenagers should have, figures aren’t much better, since 71.2% answered that they should have only those stated by law, whilst 21.6% said only those which their parents grant them, 3.7% said that they have no rights since they’re minors and a 3.5% gave a different answer, didn’t know or didn’t answer at all (46).

The problem, nevertheless, is not restricted to rights, but it also extends to the role they play in society as political subjects. In another survey, 59.2% thought that children should be considered actual citizens, 26.8% that they are not proper citizens, 10.8% that they’re future citizens and 3.2% % gave a different answer, didn’t know or didn’t answer at all (82).

With these data in mind, cultural dynamics around books aimed at children and young adults (conducted exclusively by adults) reveal semiotic dimensions of the exercise of power (Foucault 1999) easily overlooked by us, in many cases, because “we do what we think is best for them”, in which case it’s imperative to acknowledge that the “love for” or the “obligation towards” doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s an actual intention of understanding or discussing with an Other horizontally; many times it’s quite the opposite.

Considering children not worthy of human rights for whatever reason (and that they depend on the permission of another “capable” person) is the same as denying them any sort of agency over their own life, present and future, and, like a property, they’re subjected to the will of their tutor (whether he/she is qualified or not, whether he/she cares or not). It is to such extent that many grown-ups fiercely claim that no one should tell them how to raise their offspring, or that under their roof they can do whatever they want (this is something that teachers, librarians and such hear often and even they themselves say). Thus, Fuentes Alcalá and company aim to develop their analysis towards the inherent nature of human rights (52-55): from the very moment these are declared and ratified by the international community, they acquire a universal character; in other words, theoretically, they’re above any national, and local laws, and, of course, above arbitrary criteria within private spaces.

Then, production, assessment, and distribution of children’s and young adult books are practices, which, in their performance, confirm or confront praxis according to law and vice versa, they show those voids in descriptions and regulations of specific practices as written in a law built on abstractions: What kind of books are written in a certain place at a certain time? According to what kind of receiver? From what place of utterance? Who’s making the revisions, the edition, and the distribution? For what purposes? Is there any censorship? Who bans, where from, and what for? What kind of book fall in the hands of what children and young adults? How are children’s and young adult’s responses and reactions taken into account when it comes to validating the qualities of cultural products? In what way could those very responses already be conditioned by a “must be” imposed from an adult-outside? How do social class and ethnicity influence the statement and answer of each one of the questions above? Let’s never forget the political nature of our work.

In this line of thought, working with children’s and young adult literature, from any place and position, should imply a constant exercise of epistemological reflection, not only concerning the concepts of ‘literature’, ‘book’, ‘child’, or ‘youngster’, but the very ‘adulthood’ from which everything else is analyzed and how these latter categories are defined by opposition in a vertical schema of overcoming and improvement.  It doesn’t matter how much we want to be “on the child’s side,” our adult condition makes us players and approvers of a hierarchical system which grants full authority and power over them, a system built throughout various historical developments which work according to the same ground: to appropriate and mold potentialities. Because throughout history and in socioeconomic terms (with the best or the worst intentions) childhood has been valued as a potential power, since its plastic and energy assets allow them to perpetuate, reform, or brake discursive lines in which we, as adults, are already immersed and in which we have a limited time of action. They’re our heirs, whether they like it or not. 

Let’s go back to the beginning: What do human rights have to do with children’s and young adult literature? This isn’t about humans rights as content to be taught (which tend to remain empty propaganda), but the human rights we are willing to acknowledge for children and young adults as singular subjects with voices of their own; it’s about our own disposition to be challenged by them, it’s about checking our privileges and our notions on what those Others are (and what they are not) that give us hope, that terrify us, and threaten the apparent solidity of our speeches.


Foucault, Michel 1999, Estrategias de poder, intr., trad. y ed. de Julia Varela y Fernando Álvarez Uría, Paidós, Barcelona.

Fuentes Alcalá, Mario Luis et al. 2015, Conocimientos, ideas y representaciones acerca de niños, adolescentes y jóvenes. ¿Cambio o continuidad? Encuesta Nacional de Niños, Adolescentes y Jóvenes, UNAM/Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, México.

INEGI n.d., “Población. Volumen y crecimiento” in the ooficial website of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, available in: [10 september 2016].

[1] In this study, it’s pointed out, with no little alarm, that these results are very similar to those of the National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico, held during 2010 (48-47).

viernes, 26 de agosto de 2016

A new space and requirements for publication in the blog

We are pleased to announce our plans for the ‘new epoch’ for this blog. Within a couple of months it will re-emerge with a new title as

“Reading Changes: Literacy and Literature for Children and Young Adults”

The aim is for it to become a space for exchanging knowledge on issues of children's and Young Adult literature or on the literacy practices of children and young people through the publication of a summary and findings of Master’s dissertations or PhD thesis from any country around the world on these topics.
In this way, we can continue the conversation we have been having in the last two years. We believe these shared spaces are even more important now for increasing collaboration among people across nations and continents, for building bridges between researchers and teachers and creating connections that encourage an engagement with texts that is pleasurable and creatively stimulating but that also leads to a better understanding of human beings through literature and reading.
If you are interested in writing an entry, please see the detailed requirements below.
We would also like to take this opportunity to invite readers who have previously visited this blog to contact us with any comments about the entries of the previous two years, about any suggestions and in particular, about any ways in which the information disseminated through this blog has had an impact on your thinking, reading, researching or teaching. We would be very interested in knowing who you are and hearing about your reasons for visiting us so many times (please email Thank you in advance.
We hope you will continue to join us as readers or perhaps collaborators on this exciting new adventure which will begin at the end of October 2016.
Evelyn Arizpe and Laura Guerrero Guadarrama (Coordinators)
Javiera García Seguel and Camila Correa (Editors)

Requirements for publication in the blog
1. This space will be primarily to publish summaries of Master’s dissertations or PhD thesis, on issues of children's or Young Adult literature or the literacy practices of children and/or young people.
2. The approach can be theoretical or empirical and on any relevant genre.
3.It is also possible to submit a summary of a non-academic project, ie an initiative, workshop or other relevant event to the blog’s topic, as long as it is not simply a description but presentation, an analysis or discussion sustained by references to other studies or theoretical frameworks
4 .It must include the following (not necessarily in separate sections although every aspect must be clear):
a. Title
b. Brief biography of the author (100 words)
c. Objectives or research questions clearly marked
d. Context
e. Design and/or methodology - selection of texts
f. Analysis or discussion
g. Conclusions
h. References in the text following the Harvard style
i. Bibliography which has been cited (brief)
5. Maximum 1500 words (without bibliography)
6. Include two relevant images and point out where to place them in the text. Images should be selected so that there is no copyright infringement. Book cover images or photographs taken by the author may be included. If people appear in the photographs, especially children or young people, you must have their permission or, in the case of minors, permission from a family member. If more images of a picturebooks are required, this must be discussed with the editors.
7. The editors will translate the entry into Spanish (or English) if the author is unable to do so. The translation will be sent to the author before publishing.
8. If the text is not well written or presented, it will be returned to the author with suggestions.
9. The coordinators and editors reserve the right to reject texts have been re-written if the revisions are not considered adequate.
10. One entry per month will be published towards the end of the month, except in July and December and the editors will determine the order and timetable of publication.
11. By submitting their text, the authors grant permission for publication if selected. The content of the text is the responsibility of the authors.
12. Published authors will be sent a letter to confirm their participation in the blog.
13. A directory of authors will be created added to the blog.
14. Send submissions to
15. Send any questions about these requirements to
Camila Correa
Javiera García Seguel

martes, 16 de agosto de 2016

Of endings and beginnings. This blog is undergoing a transformation!

"Books taught me to think and thought set me free" (quote attributed to the Spanish writer Ricardo León, 1877-1943)

Texts and reading continue, and will continue, to transform themselves and transforming readers but we have reached the end of a stage for this blog. It emerged as a space for reflecting and sharing, both in English and in Spanish, on our research process for the project Reading Changes: Adolescents, Young Adult Literature and Literacy Practices in Mexico. We also invited other researchers with similar projects to participate in the blog and in this way to discover links to other worlds and possibilities.
Now we have reached the end of this process and it is only left to us to publish some of the project results in more detail (which we will reference later through this blog). One of these will be in an edited book that will bring together chapters from some of our guests and which we hope will be out in 2017.
But please don’t abandon us! We have decided to transform this blog … more information in our next entry, so “watch this space”…
However, before starting a “new epoch”, Laura and I would like to close this blog with thanking all the participants: first, the young people and their teachers who welcomed us into their schools and accepted our invitation, especially to Silvia Reyes because without her support, in both 1992 and 2014, the project would have not been possible. Secondly, we are grateful to our research assistants, Carolina González Alvardo y Jocelyn Silva at the beginning and Áurea Xaydé Esquivel Flores and Cutzi L.M. Quezada Pichardo towards the end, for their work and enthusiasm.
We are also grateful to the guests who shared their research with us at various stages: Osman Coban, Alejandro Aguilar Mayorga, Erin Spring, Lucia Cedeira Serantes, Mireia Manresa, Nayla Aramouni and Alberto Bolaños Montealegre. Finally, we thank our readers who, according to statistics, have visited this blog more than 15,000 times, from Chile to Ukraine, including Austria, the Philippines, India and other countries.
I asked some of those who accompanied us throughout the last two years to reply to a question: What did it mean to you to participate in the project on reading workshops about changes in reading among young people in Mexico?
With their words we close this stage ending with the voice of the youngest of them, Xiadani, to whom we are particularly grateful because she reminds us of the reason why one begins research on young people and reading in the first place. (EA)

Dr Laura Guerrero, PhD Modern Literature, lecturer and researcher in the Dept of Literature, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City
Time has passed quickly, this sensation of fleetingness that accompanies human beings every time we finish a stage or project, especially if it was a time of discovery, of enrichment and camaraderie just as it was throughout my participation in this study. I have worked on children’s literature for many years and I had always had a desire to engage in research that brought me closer to real readers, to our Mexican youth, to know more about them, far from impersonal surveys, preconceived ideas or prejudices. When Evelyn Arizpe invited me to collaborate with her it was sensational, I was going to fulfil that dream, supported by an experienced researcher who had worked internationally on this topic. Also, we were going to work on some of the issues around reading that challenged our adolescents and we would look for some ideas for possible solutions. It was in this way that I entered into the empirical study of reading which has definitely benefitted my work with a renewed comprehension. We began the blog “Reading Changes” on 17 September 2014 in order to briefly reflect on the work of the reading sessions with the research process as it happened and to share this exercise with our readers in both English and Spanish. This initial objective soon gave way to another important one, to offer a space to other similar experiences with different visions or perspectives. The success of the blog has given us great pleasure. Having reached our central aims, we now turn to the exercise of synthesis that will occupy other spaces in articles or books.
Now that we close this stage, I’d like to say that it was very important to have lived through the process of the workshops: the research design, the team meetings, the translation of materials, the review of the surveys, the selection of texts, the preparation of the sessions, the pursuit of the hermeneutic process, as well as the mistakes, the unexpected, the support of the authorities, the trust on the part of the students, their participation, their interest in reading, their social or familial problems, their needs, their intelligence, their enormous capacity to dream and imagine possible worlds. I was part of a search process, in a full hermeneutic cycle of self-reflection I understand and interpret that literary art is life and goes beyond the school curriculum.

Silvia Reyes, Teacher and Sub-director, Escuela Secundaria No.1 Profesor Froylán Parroquín García:
Reading and writing is a therapy, to express all that one thinks and one feels. To manifest in public personal joys, sadness and above all to share the emotions that these activities produce. In this panorama, it only a case of being loyal to oneself and of sharing with wisdom an ideal, a dream that can become reality, in the possibility of reaching a common accord, an interest, and to act according to principles and habits which are thoughtfully integrated. The love of reading and the individual and collective improvement produced by sharing all those emotions, that is the ideal that was behind the workshops for “Reading Changes” which were carried out in a school in an adverse social context.
It is a constant learning, it is a commitment with which I have been struggling for a long time, since my first engagement with the issue of reading, the desire to provoke bewilderment among young readers, courage, a craving to keep reading. To succeed in having young people read, that they become interested in the subjective in a story, in comics and their anecdotes, in the picturebook: that aim of the workshop was reached. The participant students succeeded in lighting their reading fire and they shared their feelings about reading. So we move forward, because the road is arid and discouraging, because we are scared to fumble, give me your hand and let’s go… together we will get there. Thank you Evelyn and Laura and all those who participated in this project, thank you.

Carolina González Alvarado, Research Assistant, PhD student, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City:
The work as a research assistant on this project was for me a profoundly rich experience of learning and development. The fieldwork allowed me to directly spend time with the young readers and delve into the influence of national political and social reality in the process of reading reception. On the other hand, the collaboration with expert researchers in the field of children’s literature widened my knowledge in the area but above all, gave me the opportunity to learn from their experience and professionalism. This project taught me that through continuous effort, disposition and humility, it is possible to work in a team and create a shared dialogue where the exchange of experiences, perspectives and points of view contributed to the creation of knowledge.

Alberto Bolaños Montealegre, specialist in second language teaching, Spain
“Transformaciones lectoras” and its English version, “Reading Changes”, has been a very interesting initiative for everyone who asks themelves what sort of attraction reading and the book can have for contemporary youth, constantly surrounded by screens and with immediate access to technologies such as Internet, videogames or social media.
As all the different contributions to the blog have shown us during these months, the act of reading goes further than the simple act of decoding words printed on paper. Books tell stories. Stories with which, to a greater or lesser degree, young (and not so young) people identify with and through which we not only learn about human beings but we also develop our own interpretation of the world and the reality in which we live.
We have also been able to observe how, in addition, the act of reading is not an act that is indifferent to the changes and social innovations that arise over time. The different contributions to the blog have shown us how reading is influenced by actual issues such as the new technologies and Internet, hybrid reading forms between word and image such as the comic and the graphic novel, or by themes that are so present in the lives of young people today such as sexuality, migration or politics. This shows us the flexibility of reading and the capacity it has to adapt to the needs of each moment.
At a personal level, it has been very interesting for me to contribute to the blog with my two entries on young adult fantasy literature and education (First and second part). This project has not only given me the opportunity to disseminate my research on this theme but it has also provided a pleasurable first experience in the wee world of blogs [Note to Alberto: I thought the Scottish word fitted in best here – and given your time in Scotland, it seemed apt! EA].
For all of this, I cannot but congratulate Evelyn Arizpe and Laura Guerrero for this initiative that has brought together teachers, professors, readers and researchers with the intention of coming closer to reading from different perspectives and understanding a bit more the fundamental role that reading continues to have, even in such a technological and high speed age as the 21st century.

Xiadani Guadalupe Cabrera Salvitano, Secondary School graduate, 15  years old
This workshop gave me a great happiness because they gave some of us young people the opportunity to participate in reading activities which taught us to be analytical and not just say “no, maybe, I don’t know…” It was interesting to see the context of the reading, what was the message, what is it that the author really wanted to communicate. They also shows us that not all books “with pictures” are for little children, but that different types of books exist and they all have good things about them. It also pleases me that they could facilitate such good texts because one doesn’t always have the opportunity to read things like that, therefore this workshop gave us, in short, the opportunity to open our minds and see beyond what we have, look for new things and be analytic.
I believe that more workshops like this should be done with all students but do it with things that really attract young people’s attention because many times they are given things to read that do not interest them or don’t attract them and then the young people don’t even give themselves the time to take the books and read even the first page to see if they are going to like it.
I am very interested because they knew how to choose the books because some of us were not used to this type of reading and they succeeded in getting us all to read them.
I am very grateful to Dr Evelyn and Dr Laura for having given me the opportunity to participate in this research, for my part it was a great pleasure to have been able to participate.

viernes, 10 de junio de 2016

Reading for pleasure in Lebanon: Some insights from conversations with young adults

Port of Byblos, Lebanon (Source: 
We travel from Catalonia to Lebanon in this new entry also based on a doctoral study. Nayla summarizes some of her findings and, most importantly, reflects on how what reading means for young people living in contexts of insecurity, a theme we have also highlighted in our research in Mexico and which, unfortunately, is relevant in so many countries around the world. Once again we note how research into reading and other literacy practices is enriched by young people’s voices and their views on the impact of historical and current social and political contexts on these practices.

Nayla Aramouni grew up in Lebanon where she completed her undergraduate degree in Education at the American University of Beirut. She spent the early days of her career there, working to encourage reading as a teacher, an educational bookstore manager, and in an educational company. She travelled to the UK in 2008 and completed an MPhil in Children’s Literature and a PhD in Education at the University of Cambridge. She is currently programmes coordinator and grants scheme manager at an international non-profit organization in Cambridge, UK and continues to devote time to young people and their reading.

A few years ago I embarked on a PhD which investigated the attitudes towards reading of young adults in Lebanon. This was not an arbitrary choice. First of all, I was born and raised in Lebanon, and I was continually struck while growing up (and when I was all done growing up) by how many people claimed they loved to read and how few people actually did. I hardly ever saw anyone reading. Not in cafes, not in doctors’ waiting rooms, not in the playground, teachers’ staffroom, or any public space at all. Yet reading was, nominally, highly regarded and valued. Beauty pageant contestants and CVs across the land claimed reading as a hobby.

Lebanon is a beautiful and intriguing country, with a lot to offer. However, it is also volatile and complex. You will rarely come across any mention of it that fails to mention its 15-year-long civil war, the effects of which are still very pronounced. Years of instability have created what the Lebanese tend to call “The Situation”, an all-encompassing term for the problems within the country, which affect every aspect of life in Lebanon – including, as I discovered, young adults’ reading.

View of Beirut taken near my family home in the town, Brummana (Photo credit: my sister-in-law, Stacy)
“The Corniche”, Beirut, Lebanon (Source: www.

My investigation began with a definition of terms such as ‘reading for pleasure’. I wanted to focus my investigation on reading that was done primarily for pleasure.  It didn’t matter what was being read, so long as the main motivation was pleasure. For example, I excluded from my study activities like reading an online review of a mobile phone handset that the reader was considering buying. Similarly, texts such as the back-stories and narratives that appear in many video games were not considered, since these were being read to progress the game.  My study was underpinned by theories of reading attitude acquisition and motivation, reading culture, reader development, and reader response. The study was also informed by the gaps I identified in the literature pertaining to reading in the Middle East and Lebanon.

The study took place at two privately run, secular, mixed-sex schools which had libraries on site and used English as their language of instruction. My participants were in their final year of school and were selected based on their responses to a survey questionnaire I distributed to the students in their year. I conducted semi-structured individual interviews with each of them and returned later to conduct small-group interviews with those who were willing and able to do so.

My first finding was good news. Every one of my participants, no matter how adamant they were about the fact that they hated reading and never read, had at least one book that they described with bright eyes and wide smiles. They had all had an experience with reading that was extremely positive. That hadn’t been enough, however, to cultivate a habit of reading for most.

When asked what they liked to read, those I interviewed seemed to like the same kind of things as their counterparts all over the world: Harry Potter, Twilight, Agatha Christie. Philosophy was a surprisingly common favourite among those who claimed they did not enjoy reading, with Sophie’s World coming up as a favourite book more often than, for example, Harry Potter.

However, the reasons why these students enjoyed these books seemed to be slightly different from the reasons their counterparts around the world might give. They read western fiction because it was different to their own reality. They tended to avoid any work that had not emerged from Europe or America, because they felt that most of the subject matter in local literature pertained to war and suffering.  According to several of my participants, because of “The Situation”, most readers in Lebanon preferred not to read content that dealt too closely with topics that were considered “violent”, “gruesome”, or “depressing”. Latent anxiety  linked to “The Situation” also seemed to play a role in limiting the amount of reading even among those who had positive reading attitudes. Even with relatively good access to books, and even for students highly motivated to read, the number of books read was relatively small and overestimated by the readers themselves.  Although the students with positive reading attitudes were keen readers who read widely, the number of books they read was much smaller than the figures found for keen readers in other studies from around the world (e.g. the U.K., U.S.A., and South Africa). I also found that libraries were rarely used to obtain reading material. Books were usually purchased from one of two bookstores, or, if this was too inconvenient or costly, illegally downloaded online. 

A branch of Librarie Antoine, one of two bookstores frequented by my participants. during (top) and after (bottom) the civil war. (Source:

In terms of how reading was assigned in schools, it was clear that being “forced” to read, as the participants put it, did have its advantages when students were given a wide enough choice of books to select from. This was particularly pronounced in those identified as having negative or neutral attitudes towards reading (as determined by the survey administered before the interviews), for whom it ensured that reading took place long and regularly enough for a deeper level of engagement to be reached. The first school I worked with assigned students two books to read over the summer, while the second gave students a broad list of books from which they were allowed to select two.  Those in the second group, who had compulsory reading time but some choice over what they read, all acknowledged the fact that they had engaged with and enjoyed at least one book in that year of "forced" reading On the other hand, all of the students in the other group, who were given no choice over what they read, felt that this lack of choice made them “hate reading”.

Frank Smith (1988) introduced the metaphor of a Literacy Club that illustrates the belief that we learn to read and to enjoy reading by "joining the club" of people we see ourselves as being like. What I found, however, was that there can be different kinds of Literacy Clubs, each with its own culture and rules of membership. One seemed to have a literacy club that was inclusive in the sense that the majority of the school community had an interest in reading and often recommended and engaged in discussions about books. There was no sharp distinction between those who liked to read and those who didn’t. The other had less respect and admiration for their teachers and peers as readers and there was a sharp divide between those who read and those who did not. Those who were readers saw themselves, and were seen by others, as part of an elite group. Perhaps as a consequence, there was less personal engagement with the material being read, since the act of reading seemed to be driven not only by pleasure, but also by the desire to belong to the group of “readers” and take on the traits associated with that group.

There were several eye opening moments for me during the investigation. One of the most notable for me was identifying The Situation as an influence on reading attitudes and behaviour. Having been born and raised in it myself, I did not see right away that there was an “it” at all. Only when I was analysing my transcripts and reread (for the hundredth time) a quote from a participant (whom I have called Rami) did it dawn on me.  I was both excited and deeply saddened by the sudden clarity. Rami loves to read, but he described a time when he decided it wasn’t for him anymore. 

Actually, I was angry because it was the coming-of-age part where I started to understand what Lebanon is, the situation, the whole dilemma, and so I became angry and was like, ‘what’s the point of reading books that had a lot of meanings and messages and images when the situation we live in is not healthy and we could invest this same time in something else?’ I don’t know what that other thing is. It was like an excuse, I don’t know.

Rami’s thought process puts into words the extent to which young people’s reading in Lebanon is influenced by their context. What he was reading about suddenly became pointless as he saw it framed in his environment and subjected his hobby to rational scrutiny. This created the “dilemma” or tension between what he loved to do (reading) and what he felt his environment was forcing him to become. He, like many others, however, knew instinctually that there were benefits to reading that could have a positive impact on the world around him. This is what drove him to reconsider his decision and continue to read.  During the final stages of my PhD, new research began to emerge about the ways in which reading fiction can enhance Theory of Mind, relatedness, and empathy (Kidd & Castano 2013). Perhaps Rami once felt that reading was pointless, given The Situation, but this new research provides scientific evidence that his instinct about the benefits of reading was correct. Reading fiction could help him make sense of and cope with the world around him. It is yet another reason to strive to promote reading for pleasure and provides further proof of how reading can change us and the world around us.


Al Amine, A., Abouchedid, K., Llabre, M., Hadi, F., Gharzeddine, M., Huri, M., & Maiky, C. (2008). The psychological conditions of children and youth in Lebanon after the July 2006 war. Beirut, Lebanon: Lebanese Association for Educational Studies and the Kuwait Society for the Advancement of Arab Children

Kidd, D., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 1(October), 1–6. doi:10.1126/science.1239918

Smith, F. (1988). Joining the Literacy Club: Further Essays in Education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

viernes, 20 de mayo de 2016

The young adult reader, between personal and school readings

© Mireia Manresa
In this entry we continue with our international guests and an entry which allows us a deeper insight into the connections between the adolescent reading worlds within and outside the school. Dr Mireia Manresa teaches Catalan language and literature at secondary school level. She currently combines teaching in a school that specializes in e-learning (IOC) with teacher-training in the Department of Education for Language and Literature in the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). She is a member of the children’s literature and literary education research group GRETEL led by Dr Teresa Colomer in the UAB. Her lines of research are based on the developing of reading habits in relation to the training of literary readers in compulsory education. She is currently researching children’s digital reading habits in and out of school and readers responses to electronic literature. Her doctoral thesis won the Extraordinary PhD award (Autonomous University of Barcelona, 2010) and the Telémaco Prize, granted by the Department of Education for Language and Literature from Complutense University of Madrid and SM publishing foundation. 
Dr Mireia Manresa teaches Catalan language and literature at secondary school level. She currently combines teaching in a school that specializes in e-learning (IOC) with teacher-training in the Department of Education for Language and Literature in the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). She is a member of the children’s literature and literary education research group GRETEL led by Dr Teresa Colomer in the UAB. Her lines of research are based on the developing of reading habits in relation to the training of literary readers in compulsory education. She is currently researching children’s digital reading habits in and out of school and readers responses to electronic literature. Her doctoral thesis won the Extraordinary PhD award (Autonomous University of Barcelona, 2010) and the Telémaco Prize, granted by the Department of Education for Language and Literature from Complutense University of Madrid and SM publishing foundation. 

In secondary schools in my country there exists the tradition of programming a work of literatura for every trimester in the subjects of the two oficial languages (Catalan and Spanish). Those in charge of choosing these titles are the teachers in in each school, given that prescriptions do not exist for the titles on the part of the administration in the case of the mandatotry secondary school. As a teacher, I attended my first meeting to decide on these titles in September 1997 in a secondary school near Barcelona and the experience raised certain questions which continue to accompany today. In the first place, I had doubts about the system of programming this reading in itself: if the objective was to have some impact on reading habits, could a sole trimestral title for all students, the reading of which was perceived as an academic activity, lead them to adopting solid reading habits? In second place, I queried the selection criteria for these works of literature: why were titles selected according to the supposed preferences of adolescents and yet academic activities such as exams were also planned? And if the objective was literary education, why were the books not selected according to the literary conventions they exemplified and why were they accompanied by activities that varied so little, such as standard assignment applicable to all the texts?

These questions led me to a first exploratory study situated within the field of reading promotion. I analysed the nearly 3,000 books read by the 1,379 adolescent participants during a reading campaign within a population in Catalonia where a challenge had been raised to read, during a few months, as many books as the number of inhabitants (53,365 at the time, in the year 2000). I complemented the analysis with the data about reading programmes in the town’s schools. Among other results, I observed that a good number of the titles cited by the young people came from the prescribed school list. There was also a coincidence in that the majority of the participants in the reading promotion campaign attended secondary schools where a project of independent and autonomous reading had been carried out (Project ELE) that complemented the obligatory trimestral readings.

I began to observe the need to focus on the relationship between the personal reading habits of the young people and the planning of school readings and this gave rise to the design of my doctoral thesis (Manresa, 2009; Manresa, 2013). The objective was to describe the characteristics of literary reading practices outside the classroom and analize the possible ways in which the school could impact on them. Thus a case study arose, situated in the socio-educational field of research and which was methodologically anchored in diverse lines of enquiry (with Baudelot et al., 1999; Hall & Coles, 1999, and Krashen, 1993, as the main references): a longitudinal study centred on the analysis of the extracurricular reading by the members of three class groups during their three first years of obligatory secondary school education (12-15 years). At the same time, it included the analysis of the impact of a programme of independent reading on the reading habits of those same students.

© Mireia Manresa

I will present some of the examples of the relevant results that fine tune, complement or confirm those of other studies and which lead to implications for the programming of school readings:

The first result to highlight is that ‘strong’ or ‘frequent’ readers (more than 10 books per year) require more attention from the school than it might seem. This is because their reading habit is more fragile than one might suppose despite the large quantity of books they consume. These ‘strong’ or ‘frequent’ readers are a minority within the cohort (5.5% at the age of 12 according to my data) and this situates them in a position that does not incentivise the continuity of their reading activity. It is surely for this reason, among others, that for these readers there is a clear and drastic diminishing of literary reading as they move from the age of 12 to 15. Only a third of this group continue within a ‘moderate reading frequency’ by the end of this period and this third coincides with those who in their first year of secondary (12 years) did not confine themselves to a particular type of texts. Therefore, the diversification and expansion of their reading in school seems to be a necessary route towards solidifying their habits and putting a brake on their declining reading activity.

So what did the adolescents in my study choose to read? The second result that I would like to highlight and which confirms tendencies observed in other research is that the majority of this group exercise little of their own judgement in choosing literature. For the most part they choose the most popular texts, in other words, those that are being read, or have been read, by many other adolescents; texts which also help them read because of the familiarity offered by their narrative patterns. The result of this is that the majority of the young people, no matter whether they read a lot or very little, confine themselves to a particular type of text and thus have quite particular reading skills and quite fragile reading habits. However, this phenomenon has a counterbalance in that it provides a framework of common references that can be exploited in the classroom to create community.

So, if reading habits are so globalized, what differences exist between the Catalan youth of my study and those of other contexts? The answer is, mainly, the baggage of references offered by school reading. This leads to the consideration that, according to the educational tradition in which young people are inscribed, their reading universe can lack certain types of text, such as the more canonical ones or those that are inscribed within certain genres. This points to the need to incorporate complementary criteria for personal reading in the school and also guidance which can help them locate what they like to read: Why not plan a didactic sequence or series of lessons about romantic literature or about vampire literature that includes young adult books of the moment as well as the classic references? Why not develop literary preferences by contrast?

One dimension of the reading habit that is not often taken into account in the majority of studies is the appraisal dimension, that is, the possibilities that readers have to express their reading experience. Part of the skill of a competent reader is to be capable of going further than ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’, ‘it’s fun’ or ‘it’s boring’. My data showed that the most sophisticated arguments are almost exclusively obtained from young people who have an extensive and diverse reading baggage. To teach the competence for social conversation about fiction is without a doubt increasingly more relevant given the growing force of reading socialization on the web.

Finally, what effects does the application of a programme of independent reading have on reading habits? I will note two of them: the more independent and autonomous reading in school, the more there is an increase in personal reading and the more progress there is in the appraisal of the texts. This is because the simultaneous programming of independent and guided reading (cursive and analitique according to the French curriculum) permits the building of bridges between personal reading and reading in school, between the construction of reading habits and the development of a literary reader, the two sides of the same coin.
Mireia Manresa

BAUDELOT, C.; CARTIER, M.; DETREZ, C. (1999). Et pourtant ils lisent... París: Éditions du Seuil.
HALL, C.; COLES, M. (1999). Children's reading choices. London: Routledge.
KRASHEN, S. (1993). The power of reading. Insights from the research. Englewood (Colorado): Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
MANRESA, M. (2009): Els hàbits lectors dels adolescents. Efectes de les actuacions escolars en les pràctiques de lectura. Dirección de Teresa Colomer. UAB.
MANRESA, M. (2013): L'univers lector adolescent. Dels hàbits de lectura a la intervenció educativa. Barcelona: Associació de Mestres Rosa Sensat.