domingo, 21 de diciembre de 2014

martes, 9 de diciembre de 2014

How much water does your “River of Reading” carry?

What place does reading have in your everyday life? How much do you read over a week? What type of texts? These were some of the oral questions we asked the young participants in the project. They replied that they read very little due to time spent on their other activities which include playing sports, playing with their phones or even working in their family’s shop at weekends. However, when we asked them to make a collage with all the types of texts that they read, they surprised themselves given it turned out they read much more than they thought. The visual exercise also encouraged a more creative response to the above questions, reflecting a sense of the fluidity with which we all move through the texts in our surroundings. This activity, called “Rivers of Reading” was originated and developed by academics in the area of literacy education (Burnard, 2002; Winchester, 2008; Cliff-Hodges, 2010). This strategy was also used successfully in a previous project, Journeys from Images to Words (McAdam et al 2014, see with students from primary schools in the city of Glasgow, to show how languages and literacy practices can be valued in a school with children from many backgrounds and cultures.

In Glasgow we found that the children included a great variety of texts, both from books and magazines as well as film, video and other multimodal texts. We carried out an analysis which grouped these texts into categories following some of the ones developed by Cairney & Ruge (1998) y Marsh (2004). We discovered that the largest category referred to the literacy practices whose objective was to obtain information, closely followed by the category related to reading for pleasure or self-expression (a more detailed analysis and conclusion can be found in the Final Report of the project, available for download from

Among the young Mexicans we also found a great variety of texts amongst which functional and entertaining ones and those engaged with for entertainment and pleasure stood out, as well as those that have to do with digital social media communication (Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram). Textbooks were mentioned in most of them too. We also found “self-help” books, magazines and the graphic novel they were all reading for the project (Justicia divina by F. Haghenbeck – see a previous blog entry about this book). They mentioned films, videos and song lyrics. Handwritten notes appeared, as well as a reference to love letters. On the other hand, recipes, nutritional information on food packages and labels on beauty products also form part of their daily reading.

The “Rivers” can also incorporate tributaries, that is, the literacy practices of other members of the family. In Mexico, where many young people still live in extended families, with several generations in the same house, we found tributaries with the reading of grandparents or cousins were also included. Through this activity, therefore, it is possible then to create a picture of rivers that interconnect and that reveal a fertile ground for research and pedagogy.

The activity allowed us to learn about the literacy practices that occur in the home without intruding into students’ houses. It also lead to conversation with the participants about the type of texts, particular titles, where they access them and what they got from them. It also invited us all to think about how reading practices change according to age or gender and what overall role literacy practices have in their lives.

Whether as strategy for research or for pedagogy, at the beginning of this activity it is important that the teacher or researcher creates their own “River” and shares it with the students. While it must be specified if the task is to take place over a day, a week or a weekend, it is important to clarify that the teachers’ is not the only possible model, each student should draw their river’s trajectory as they prefer. In Mexican project, both Evelyn and one of the librarians created their “River” and presented it to the students for comment. The students were then asked to carry out the task over a week. 

Evelyn’s “River of Reading”

Many of the texts mentioned by the students are overlooked or ignored by teachers and by the curriculum in general, which means opportunities for getting to know students’ literacy activities in more depth and to incorporate these into the classroom are wasted. The conversations about reading and texts that are familiar to students can enrich the work done with set texts in school. They can be used, for example, to work on intertextuality or to find out how digital activities can accompany a text (given that young people tend to know how to use this medium better than their teachers); for example, they can discuss the reviews that “booktubers” present on youtube or they can enter webpages or forums created by contemporary children’s or YA authors. They can analyze the language and images of commercials, posters or political slogans. The ingredients of food or beauty products can be used for an activity in the Chemistry class. Even when the material obtained via the “Rivers” is less for some than for others, a panorama of the whole group can be created, using lists or graphs by categories. Students can also consider the types of texts and reading that are missing from these lists. Finally, several “Rivers” can be created throughout the school year, showing how texts change or how reading interests can develop across a particular period of time.

In terms of research, Gabrielle Cliff-Hodges concludes:
… the idea of rivers of reading associates strongly with the narrative, temporal and historical; the idea of mapping the terrain of readership associates strongly with the sociocultural and spatial. For all these reasons, collage-making seemed to be a suitably thought-provoking research method to use. (p.188)

In terms of pedagogy, Julie McAdam and the rest of the team concluded:
The Rivers of Reading task is a useful way of promoting discussion about literacy practices at home and school. It allows children opportunities to connect their home practices to those of the school and it also provides teachers with valuable insights into the out-of-school interests of the children they teach, leading to more enhanced and culturally sensitive individual planning. The task increases awareness of what it means to read and can enable children to become more confident about the role literacy plays in their daily lives.
The results of this activity is also of obvious interest to researchers in the field and can offer both quantitative and qualitative data. In Mexico, our sample was not sufficiently large enough to reach any set conclusions or to make generalizations about literacy practices. The “Rivers” made by the students are similar in many ways but they also reminded us that they show a moment of encounter of time and space which is eclectic and idiosyncratic. In the case of our project, we are not concerned with presenting exact data but with showing some of the interior glimpses offered by this activity which illuminates that unique moment that is the act of reading.

Burnard, P. (2002) ‘Using image-based techniques in researching pupil perspectives’, The ESRC Network Project Newsletter, (5) pp 2-3

Cairney, T.H. and Ruge, J. (1998) Community Literacy Practices and Schooling: Towards Effective Support for Students. Canberra: DEET

Cliff-Hodges, G. (2010) ‘Rivers of reading: Using critical incident collages to learn about adolescent readers and their readership,’ English in Education, 44 (3)

McAdam, J. E., Arizpe, E., Devlin, A. M., Farrell, M., and Farrar, J. (2014) Journeys from Images to Words. Project Report. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Marsh, J. (2004) ‘The Techno-literacy practices of young children,’ Journal of Early Childhood Research, 2(1) pp 51-66

Winchester, D. (2008) ‘Rivers of Reading.’ English Four to Eleven 33, Summer, pp19-21

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2014

The Art of Research in Times of Crisis

(Remember that life is too fragile to be scared.
Just close your eyes and let your feelings fly away)

Empirical educational research tends to follow certain established steps and processes: initial ideas begin to take shape, the project is consolidated, a budget is planned, funds are obtained (if one is lucky enough), contact is established with schools, necessary permissions are obtained, including research ethics, a research schedule is set up and finally, one can start! We know there is a lot of work to do and that, inevitably, there will be problems and obstacles (students miss the sessions because they have band or football practice, materials are lost, the recorder stops working, a student has moved to another school…) but we also know that everything will be solved gradually, that a project develops organically and that there will be exciting and significant moments and discoveries. However, what we do not usually expect is an event of such magnitude that it envelops all the participants, researchers, teachers and students and which transforms the atmosphere and even the results of the research.

I’m referring to the current situation of crisis in Mexico, especially since the atrocity committed against the young students, aspiring teachers, on the 26th of September. This event, which was an attack on youth, education and ideals, was the final straw, or as we say in Spanish, the last drop that made the cup overflow, a cup in this case already full of injustice and violence resulting from corruption and from the collusion of the authorities with the criminal world. The students from the secondary schools we are working with are not unfamiliar with the insecurity that affects all Mexicans, but the disappearance and probable massacre of the students of Ayotzinapa has heightened their fears and anxieties about their own future.

The objective of the reading workshops we are carrying out as part of the research is to obtain reading experiences through strategies that can be transformed into methods to be used not only in the classroom but also in reading circles, libraries or other spaces where young people encounter books. The researchers have been using a methodology derived from reader response studies within an empirical qualitative research framework which implies certain ethical norms and a certain attitude and behaviour on the part of the researcher. In other words, we are trying to collect the most “authentic” readers responses possible, although it is evident that, from the start, reader response is the result of a multitude of factors, individual and collective, which affect the spaces and moments of the study. However, as a researcher, one tries to have the least impact on the response, allowing the readers to take their own paths in terms of their comments, questions and observations. A question guide helps to maintain a certain structure and direction but it is preferable to follow the thread of the conversation as it emerges from the text under discussion.

Books, as we all know, have the possibility of arousing a variety of emotions and thoughts and adolescents, as we all know, find themselves at a stage in life where all of these easily surface. These thoughts and emotions come through, inevitably, when they feel there is a comfortable space to talk about their reading. What to do then, when the conversation begins to turn to their tribulations, fears and anxieties? A girl reveals that, just as in the graphic novel we read, Justicia Divina, she would not be afraid of the “Llorona” (the spectre of a grieving woman who, legend has it, murdered her children) because there are real things that frighten her more; a boy tells us he often feels he lives in a different reality, like the protagonist of the novel we are just beginning to read (Memorias de Idhun, by Laura Gallego); another boy tells us about a story he read where a teenager has a difficult relationship with his mother and at that moment his eyes fill with tears; other female students tell us they are afraid, afraid of becoming victims of violence against women, as in the picturebook by Frisch and Innocenti; several refer to the events in Ayotzinapa.

Reading and living cannot be separated. We cannot remain objective and impassive when readers tell us their stories and feelings. Above all, we cannot do this if we also find ourselves within the nightmare which this country is living. Nor can we separate our role as researchers from the events that are happening and from the lives of the students with whom we have spent time during this project. Sometimes one asks what sense there is in collecting and analyzing data, writing papers, giving conferences, at a time when the country is being shaken by events. We ask ourselves if it what we do is really that important, if reading and talking about literature with just a handful of the millions of young people in this country is of any use to anyone.

But we should remember the words of the renown anthropologist of reading, Michèle Petit, author de El arte de la lectura en tiempos de crisis (The art of reading in times of crisis) (Oceano, México 2008), words which are based on real experiences in similar contexts of crisis:
En contextos de crisis, la literatura nos da otro lugar, otro tiempo, otra lengua, una respiración. Se trata de la apertura de un espacio que permite la ensoñación, el pensamiento, y que da ilación a las experiencias. Una crisis es como una ruptura, un tiempo que reactiva todas las angustias de separación, de abandono, y produce la pérdida de ese sentimiento de la continuidad que es tan importante para el ser humano. Las narraciones, entre otras cosas, nos reactivan ese sentimiento, no sólo porque tienen un comienzo, un principio y un fin, sino también por el orden secreto que emana de la buena literatura. Es como si el caos interno se apaciguara, tomara forma.
(In contexts of crisis, literature gives us another place, another time, another tongue, a breath. It is about the opening of a space that allows daydreams, thought, and which gives a thread to experiences. A crisis is like a rupture, a time which reactivates all the anxieties of separation, abandonment and produces the loss of that feeling of continuity that is so important for the human being. Narratives, among other things, reactivate that feeling in ourselves, not only because they have a beginning and an end, but also because of the secret order that emanates from good literature. It is as if the internal chaos becomes placated (and) takes shape.)

(EA translation)

Michèle collects the commentaries and observations of the readers in situations of crisis in different countries and shows that despite differences in contexts, there is evidence of the value that literature and reading have at these moments and that, in fact, people tend to turn to books, book fairs and libraries when there is chaos.

We confirmed this now with the comments that many of the students made about how they take refuge in books when they have problems or when there are difficulties around them. They told us that they “escape” from reality but that at the same time they learn from what they read and apply it in some way to their own situation.

Michèle’s book not only reaffirms the value of research but also gives us hope, both for the adolescent turbulence and for the Mexican crisis given it attempts to “identificar algunos de los sesgos que permiten un nuevo despliegue de las posibilidades, una posibilidad de salida de los caminos ya trazados” (identify some of the slants that permit a new deployment of the possibilities, a possibility of an exit from the paths already traced).

Let us reflect also, then, on the responsibility of research in times of crisis. It is not about trying to be a therapist or about discussing politics, but it is also not about avoiding issues or trying to maintain artificial distances. With professionalism and respect we must permit these moments, know how to listen but also know when it is necessary to move the conversation, gently, to other themes. Perhaps suggest possibilities. Share what it is possible to share, especially solidarity and hope. Rethink what research really means, again, to quote Michèle:

These days, everything needs to be quantified and everyone is obsessed with getting immediate returns, and we easily tend to forget that making detours is crucial from an anthropological and psychic point of view, particularly in critical times. […] Making a detour is vital when we need to be clever to get around pain or fear rather than face them. It is also essential for thinking and creativity.

(The title of this blog is intended as a tribute to Michèle and it is also a call to publishers in the UK and the US to translate her work, given that it is incredible that such valuable publications, for the sociology of reading, for education and for mediation are not available in English. The only text in English I could find is a short text that appears in one of the IBBY Congress websites: ).

miércoles, 12 de noviembre de 2014

La niña de rojo (The girl in red). Aaron Frisch and Roberto Innocenti.

Re-telling the classic short stories of the Grimm brothers or Charles Perrault with a different tone or view has been a kind of “subversive tradition” in the children’s and young adult literature, since the end of the 20th century, and it has even affected movies like Shrek. From different points of view, either dark or hopeful, an enlarged sense of humour, and all kind of literary resources such as metafiction, these stories have energized the antique genre of the fairy tales, and have made us look at the past with different eyes.

A good example is the picturebook, The girl in red, written by the American author Aaron Frisch and illustrated by the Italian Roberto Innocenti, both of whom, with a great literary quality and in an innovative way take up one of the most well-known tales, Little Red Riding Hood, once more. Although it's originally created for 8-year-old children, its complex pictures, full of social critique, jokes and soulless and filthy places, offer a great realism through the details of the environment and the characters and its ludic text, which guide us step by step, can enchant readers of all ages.

In a rainy night, a small granny, like a self-illuminated toy, tells a story to a group of children in what seems like a neglected day-care centre:

One day, Sofia, a girl who lives in a poor and unsafe neighbourhood in a big city, is sent by her mother to take cookies, honey and oranges to her sick grandmother, who also needs company. Unfortunately, on the way she runs into some jackals (a motorcylec gang) who surround her and harass her.

When everything seems lost, someone known as “the hunter”, a young and strong man saves her and offers her to take her to her grandma's house. On the way, however, he receives a call which means he must drop her off on the way. While Sofia makes her own way to her grandmother’s house, the “hero”, who is actually the wolf, overtakes her and waits to finish her off. However, given the listener’s horror and tears at this sad ending, the little storytelling granny, knowing that the stories are magical, offers her audience an alternative, happy ending.

This reminds us the term “eucatastrophe”, coined by J. R. R. Tolkien in his essay “On Fairy-Stories”:

But the “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairystory. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.

The happy ending offered as other possibility in The girl in red is important, because it allows this consolation mentioned by Tolkien. It should be pointed out that this eucatastrophe is not like the deus ex machina given that the eucatastrophe appears from the elements in the story, there isn't any magic or sudden appearance.

As we read Frisch and Innocenti's book with the students in our study, we found many surprises. It was alarming to discover that the stories, specially the fairy-tales, are seldom told. In the fast world we live in there's no time to tell or to share stories. It's easier to watch a movie. Memory is also affected, as shown in the illustrations by Innocenti, in what Frisch calls “The Wood”: a huge shopping mall covered with images that incite us to buy, to live and to think in a specific way.

Our research highlighted that among the fairy tales and other stories that were mentioned in the survey as having being told to the students as younger children, the two most cited were Little Red Riding Hood (57 times) and The Three Little Pigs (67 times). However, it turned out to be quite difficult for the students to reconstruct the story of Little Red Riding Hood, because they only remembered a few bits of the story and weren't able to distinguish between the different versions. There were details that were clear, like the fact that the mother sends the little girl to her sick grandmother's house, and that the wolf intercepts the girl in the forest. Other details, such as what the girl was taking to her granny, whether the wolf eats her, or if there was a hunter or a woodcutter caused them more trouble.

It's also important to mention that, instead of the versions by the Grimm brothers or by Perrault, the actual cinematographic versions of they story were more frequently referred to, such as Hoodwinked! (2005) and Red Riding Hood (2011).

In the session on this picturebook, we first analyzed the cover, then the back cover, and finally the first pages. For the urban teenagers it was easy to identify Innocenti's urban landscapes, because they belong to their reality, to what they know, to what they see when they walk in the streets or watch the TV. Despite the aggressive images, they assimilated the visual text, perhaps because for them the walls covered in graffiti, the bars and the barbed wire seem nearer than Red Riding Hood's original wood. The different social classes, the filth and the violence are part of their own reality. They raised many questions from the observation of the images, but also unique and personal ideas, explanations for the world created by Frisch and Innocenti, which are at the same time explanations of their own world, of their fears and of what they see.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy Stories”. Web. PDF File.

Elisa Lamothe
Georgina Lamothe
Joselyn Silva

lunes, 13 de octubre de 2014

Justicia Divina (Divine Justice). Francisco Haghenbeck.

For the first group of reading sessions, we provided the secondary school students in our study with the text: Justicia Divina (Divine Justice) by Francisco Haghenbecki, a successful Mexican author with a long trajectory in the world of graphic narrative. This book was published by the Department of Literature of the Iberoamericana University, a unusual case, as there are those who believe that academic insititutions only edit works of theory or criticism.

What is Justicia Divina? As indicated in the Prologue by Alberto Chimal, it is a ‘hybrid story’, between a written and graphic narrative in which the author makes an ironic and parodic construct of supernatural stories, underneath which lie legends and horror stories. However, this text convokes not only ghosts and phantoms, it also flirts with our reality and its problems, everyone knows about the violence that is afflicting Mexico and how it particularly targets young people. The protagonist is a witness of the fears and terrors of our days and of our nights, as the text rightly puts it: ‘this city already has its own spectres: assaults, police, kidnappings, authorities […] today the price of the dollar is this is more frightening than the Coco.’ (27). The Coco is one of the legendary apparitions that appear in the book, along with the Llorona, the Mad Monk, the Goatsucker, the Wolf Man and the Female Vampire.ii Victor Serrano Bellosilo, our principal narrator, represents himself: ‘I am a conservative, Catholic, virgin and I like Luis Miguel,iii I know, I am fucked for life. But I can’t aspire to anything more. Not only was I born with a dark gift but with the stigma of being middle class.’ (12)

The ironic spirit floods the textul paths of the text, as well as the streets, buildings and dives represented in a game of mirrors that reformulates reality. The creator weaves his story with ambiguity, ruptured forms and genres. For example, the author deconstructs the prototipical image of the Devil, in a way that entertains and alerts the reader to the absurd transcendence of the relevations that the demon makes to Victor, who later comments:

He didn’t tell me anything new. I was expecting that he would resolve my life, that he would explain to me the reason of my gift. The reason why life laughs at us. But like everyting bad, the only reason is just because. But I understood why they call him the Devil… he left me with the bill for a capuchino for a hundred pesos.iv And those prices really are sinful. (95)

When Justicia Divina was presented this year, at the Feria de Mineriav in the D.F. in the Salon de la Academia, it was full of young people who knew the author and wanted to find out about his new book, in fact, almost all the copies were sold. Haghenbeck dedicated the text to everyone who bought it, drawing a picture of Victor, the detective of the paranomal (his alter ego) who speaks wth both the dead and the living.

This effect on Haghenbeck’s readers led us to select this text for the student in this project and although we expected they would like it, we were still suprised by their reaction. We had asked them to read the first sequence only, but when we went to speak to them we found that three of them had alredy finished the book and were talking about it with great enthusiasm, infecting their peers. It had caused them to laugh, they had understood the allusions to the bad guys and the sinister dark worlds which they represent, in fact, one of the boys commented that this book was about both ‘the fears by day and the fears by night’. From their enjoyment of the text, comprehension was derived in a natural and simple manner and, above all, it was appropriated into their lives and their own worlds.

i Haghenbeck, F. 2013. Justicia Divina. Mexico, D.F.: Universidad Iberoamericana.

ii All of these are ghosts or monsters from Mexican legends: the ‘Coco’ is a Bogeyman used to threaten naughtly children; the Llorona is a woman who wanders the streets crying for her dead children; the Goatsucker does just that, it is a monster that sucks the life out of goats!

iii Luis Miguel is one of the most successful pop singers in Latin America.

iv About 10USD

v An international book fair in Mexico City.

sábado, 4 de octubre de 2014

Reading is "very much important"

Reading is “very much important”

This opinion about reading was written by a young girl of 14 who participated in our reading survey. In the questionnaire, we asked them to write their opinion about reading. The idea that reading is “important” is reflected in the majority of the opinions given by the 250 respondents, students in second and third year from two government secondary schools.

So, according to them, why is reading “very much” important? We still do not have the exact statistics, but it is obvious that for the majority, reading is important mainly as a tool to “read better”, “learn”, “obtain knowledge/information”, “develop comprehension”, “write correctly”, “help with spelling” or “with cultural benefits”. There were only a few mentioned that it was “fun” or whose answers reflected a sense of enjoyment or pleasure. Other replies simply indicated that it was “boring”, “not for me” and/or that they did not “have time” to spend with books.

These opinions about reading are almost identical to those expressed by the 90 young people who participated in the original study and replied to the same request when the questionnaire was applied in 1992. This is what I wrote in the thesis when I analysed these opinions:

Although these opinions are brief, the contradictions and the repetition of certain words and ideas are significant, like the words "useful" and "knowledge". The adjectives used most frequently were "boring", "interesting" and "nice"; the verbs were "serve", "teach" and "learn" and the object of these actions were "culture", "knowledge", "vocabulary" and "spelling". These opinions seem to reflect the idea that reading is a means to achieve an objective and not an end in itself, in Rosenblatt's terms, they are talking about "efferent" reading.* These comments show that adolescents recognized reading as "useful" and equated books with school activities and boredom. There seems to be an almost total identification of reading as a curricular activity, as an obligation, but not as an activity that can be fun and entertaining.

Almost 25 years later, this scenario is repeated, although it seems that the issue of “having time” to read has become more problematic: at that point in time, reading competed mainly with television; now it also competes with the computer, digital social networks, cell phones, films and/or videos, i-pods and other music gadgets and videogames, among others. In what appears to be a contradiction, many young people wrote that they read when they were “bored” and had nothing else to do.

These results are not particularly surprising, what is surprising is that there are some young readers who take the time to read a book and have a favorable opinion of this activity, not because it is “useful”, but because of the enjoyment they derive from it. This pleasure is manifested mainly in the word “fun” and the idea that it stimulates the imagination. In the more recent survey, the responses that help us understand what they mean by this are the ones in which they describe why they liked a certain book, in other words, the responses that don’t refer to the “importance” of reading but to a “significant” text. These usually more elaborate replies were about particular books that had a personal significance, whether this was about relationships with others, their own search for identity, questions about life (or death), among the other things that preoccupy an adolescent in the 21st century, but that also preoccupied young people nearly a quarter of a century ago. Significant texts provoked their curiosity, took them “to the world of fantasy”; involved their emotions and feelings; and had to do with “identifying” with the characters or distracting them from their problems. Once again, the replies are almost identical to those mentioned in the original survey.

In the original study, I worked with young people who described themselves as reading only “a little”. We read and discussed three YA books, selected with the idea that they were about themes that could interest them, with characters their age and accessible language. These were the Spanish translations of The World of Ben Lighthart by Jaap ter Haar (1983, Ediciones SM); Don’t Ask for Sardines out of Season  by Andreu Martin y Jaume Ribera (1988, Alfaguara) and The Thief  by Jan Needle (1993, Fondo de Cultura Económica). Almost all the participants expressed their liking for these books. They found them “fun” and “entertaining” mostly because they had been able to relate to or become involved with the characters in some way. This is what I wrote in the conclusion of the thesis:

The most satisfying result of the research was that a few students manifested a pleasure in having finished and enjoyed a book and a desire to continue reading.

In the next blogs we will write not only about the more specific results of the survey but also about the three books that we chose for our current research. One of the differences between the projects is that in the first one all three were novels but in the current one, two of the texts have images, one is a graphic novel and one is a picturebook. We have started reading the graphic novel and so far it has been a success. Several readers have described it as “cool”. As Juan Domingo Argüelles,  editor and also author of many essays on  reading, said at one of the panel discussions during the IBBY Congress in Mexico, “if a kid says that a book is ‘cool’, you’ve done it”.

The question is, then, can a book be “very much important” and “cool” at the same time?

*Rosenblatt, L.M. (1978). The Reader, the Text and the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press.

martes, 16 de septiembre de 2014


"Reading is a journey for those who can’t take the train."

With this first blog post we introduce the research project Reading Changes: Adolescents, Young Adult Literature and Literacy Practices in Mexico, a collaborative project between researchers in the School of Education, University of Glasgow and the Department of Literature, Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico City) and with the support of these universities and of The Children’s Literature Assembly NCTE.

As a starting point we take the earlier studies on young people reading in Mexico (1992 and 1996) undertaken by Evelyn Arizpe as part of her doctoral and postdoctoral work with research grants from the International Literacy Association and The Spencer Foundation (Arizpe 1994; 1997; 1999 y 2001). At that time, renowned young adult literature had begun to be translated into Spanish and these works became available along with books by authors from Spain; there was also an increasing national production supported by the publisher Fondo de Cultura Economica through it’s collection, A la Orilla del Viento (1991), as well as by the publishers Alfaguara México y Ediciones SM.

In Arizpe’s research, the response of secondary school students to a selection of these YA texts revealed, among other findings, the important fact that although few of them had ever finished reading an entire book, most of those participating in the study did finish the selected texts  because they said the books were about young protagonists that reflected their  interests and preoccupations.

Now, nearly 25 years later, the panorama for adolescent readers has greatly changed in terms of the production and promotion of both children’s and Young Adult literature, due in part to the success of this field in the publishing industry; to professional courses in this field and to the various official programmes of the Ministry of Education (SEP), such as, to name some recent ones: “Portal Jóvenes Lectores” and the “Programa Nacional de Lectura y Escritura”; the Colección de los Libros del Rincón, with the Bibliotecas Escolares y de Aula, as well as the publication of the guide of recommended books, Guía de libros recomendados para niños y jóvenes that appears since 2007, thanks to CONACULTA, the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana and  IBBY México.

There are also the contribution and actions by CONACULTA (National Council for Culture and Arts): book festivals, the national programme of “Salas de lectura”; an increasing rich catalogue; various creating writing competitions; the organization of the annual International Children’s and Young Adult Book Fair FILIJ, as well as multiple regional and state fairs and the consolidation of the Guadalajara Book Fair. The context has also changed thanks to libraries and the activities of many librarians.

The offer of books for young people includes not only hybrid genres and more visual ones such as picturebooks and graphic novels, but also “postmodern” texts, with stylistic and thematic characteristics which are very different from the texts usually read in schools. These new texts demand “an active reader, an interpreter, a hermeneutic reader capable of decodifying that which is beyond what is said, that which sometimes evades us, like a buried treasure. In this way, reading becomes an exercise that leads to the dialogue among interpreters and young readers share their discoveries in different types of forums, either through social or school media.” (Guerrero Guadarrama 2012).

The panorama of reading has also been affected by other factors such as the presence of the Internet and all types of electronic gadgets such as tablets; the impact of the so-called “Harry Potter phenomenon” , as well as other communication media directed particularly at young people, such as films based on popular YA novels, creating an intermediality at the same time.

The question is, then, whether these publications and events have had an impact on the new generations of readers and how this is manifested.

To start answering this question, we will return to the theme of adolescent reading and we will carry out a pilot investigation, between September and December of 2014, on the changes in the reading practices in the past 25 years. The research team is led by Evelyn and Laura as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students of the Department of Literature of the Universidad Iberoamericana.

In the same way as in the original studies, we will go beyond the questions that are usually made in surveys on reading habits and will look in depth at reading practices in and out of school and at the way in which readers conceive books and the act of reading. The research will take into account the changes in the educational context as well as research on reading in Mexico between 1980 and 2013 approximately, as well as the most recent international studies in this area. We will also consult with, and interview, some of the people with the most experience in this field including publishers, teachers and librarians.

As well as returning to the methodology and the original results of the studies, we will include strategies successfully used in other research on reader response (Arizpe y Styles 2003/2004; Arizpe, Colomer y Martínez-Roldán 2014) and we will explore other qualitative methods during the reading workshops with the young people. The methodological framework includes hermeneutics and critical social constructivism and the empirical investigation will take place in two government secondary schools with students in their second or third year. Given the ethics issues related to the collection of data, we will use pseudonyms for the school and for participants. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Head teachers of both schools for their support as well as the Education Authorities for the State of Morelos.

The initial objective is to begin to create a picture of reading practices based on the initial results and then carry out a more extensive investigation and look in depth at the most relevant aspects, finding approaches that will enable teachers and other professionals to have alternative tools to find out what is happening with reading outside school and to motivate young people with specific strategies.

In the longer term, the objectives are to:

  • disseminate the findings among teachers and corresponding authorities to try to create spaces for discussion around this theme based on a better knowledge base.
  • provide ideas to teachers and other professionals working with reading to make the most of existing YA literature, along with picturebooks and graphic novels and readers’ responses in order to promote a more attentive, analytic and critical reading.
  • involve students at all levels in this type of readings and strategies and in this way support them in their reflections on a wider and more profound meaning of the act of reading.
  • widen the knowledge of undergraduate and graduate students of literature and education through workshops and activities based on the results of the research.

 Throughout this blog we will describe out methods and add our observations. The members of the team will contribute to the blog in order to show not only different perspectives but also different analytical angles, given that each member of the team has experience and knowledge according to their particular theme of study and work.

We hope that the readers of this blog will follow us in this new research enterprise and that they will enrich it with their questions and comments.

Evelyn Arizpe y Laura Guerrero


Arizpe, E. (1994) Reading Response: The Reading Processes of Adolescent Reluctant Readers. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Cambridge.

Arizpe, E. (1997) Report for the Spencer Foundation , ‘Reading from a Gender Perspective: A Study of Mexican Student’s Responses to Literature’ (1995-1996)’.

Arizpe, E. (1999) Más o menos letrados: adolescentes y comunidades lectoras en la escuela secundaria en México, Lectura y vida 3 (20), 16-23.

Arizpe, E. (2001) “Responding to a “Conquistadora”:  Readers Talk about Gender in Mexican Secondary Schools”, Gender and Education 13 (1),  25-37.

Arizpe, E. and Styles, M. (2003) Children Reading Pictures: Interpreting visual texts. London: Routledge.

Arizpe, E., Colomer, T. and Martínez-Roldán, C. (2014). Visual Journeys through Wordless Narratives: An international inquiry with immigrant children and The Arrival Bloomsbury Academic.

Guerrero Guadarrama, L. (2012) Posmodernidad en la literatura infantil y juvenil. México: UIA.

Guerrero Guadarrama, L. (2011) La palabra y la creación. Promover literatura para niños y jóvenes. Seminario Nacional La formación de lectores como sustento de la igualdad.