sábado, 5 de noviembre de 2016

A panorama of the changes in Chilean children’s literature through an analysis of award-winning books

Greetings to all our readers! With this entry we inaugurate the new phase of the blog, with posts about Masters and Doctoral studies in the field. We begin with an investigation into children's and young adult literature in Chile. A big thank you to Javiera and we look forward to your contributions for the following entries. The indications for being published can be found on the left hand side of the screen.

Evelyn Arizpe

Javiera Garcia has a Bachelor’s in Spanish Language and Literature from the Universidad Alberto Hurtado and a Master’s in Children’s Literature and Literacies from the University of Glasgow. Her main interests are picturebooks, graphic narrative and cognitives approaches to children’s literature.

Research question

The aim of my master’s dissertation was to provide an overview of the changes in and the characteristics of Chilean children’s literature from 1990 to 2015. In order to establish this, I have attempted to address the question: What are the characteristics of Chilean children’s literature from the last 25 years? The answer to this question was provided by the analysis of award-winning Chilean books from 1990 to 2015.


The number of books for children published in Chile has dramatically increased in the last 25 years; nevertheless, the study of this area has been neglected. The main study of children’s literature – from an historic perspective – was published in 1982 by Manuel Peña[1], which covers the history of books for young readers from the Colony to the 1980s. From 1990 to this moment, however, no studies exist concerning how Chilean children’s literature has evolved and what features the books show nowadays.

Table 1 Number of children's books published by year in Chile. Source: ISBN

Design and methodology

The selection of books was made taking into consideration all the books awarded by diverse national and international prizes from 1990 to 2015. This method of corpus selection is a beneficial way of narrowing down the number of texts that can be included in the research, and also recognises the quality of the material selected (Yokota, 2011).

Six awards were taken into consideration for this investigation: IBBY Chile Honour List, Colibrí Medal, Municipal Prize of Literature of Santiago, Marta Brunet Award, White Ravens and Barco de Vapor Chile.

In the last 25 years, there were 58 books awarded, most of them recognised after 2005. Twenty-nine of them are chapter books, eight are picturebooks, six are poetry, six are short stories, four are graphic novels or comics, three are nonfiction, one is drama and one is unknown[2]. However, and because of time and space limits, in this research I only analysed chapter books.

The chapter books were analysed according to a guideline from Colomer (1998) that I modified in order to include topics, characteristics and content elements, and left aside elements from narratology that I could not tackle due to the parameters of the investigation.


This research took into account 17 categories of analysis applied to the texts; however, I will refer to only a few categories of analysis that were applied in this research.

Firstly, the representation of boys and girls as main characters has been far from equal; the depiction has been mostly in favour of male protagonists. Of the 29 books analysed, 21 of them have male main characters, while only eight books present female protagonists.

The female main characters were created mostly by female authors, all except one, and almost the totality of the books were published after 2005, with the exception of one book awarded in 1992. This confirms that the appearance of female protagonist is relatively new in the panorama provided by the prizes.

In addition, this disparity is not only exposed in the gender of the protagonists of books; it is also present in the gender of the authors. Books written by men won almost twice as many recognitions than the ones written by women: while 19 of the award-winning books were authored by men, women wrote 10 of the award-winning titles. Therefore, as men tend to write books with male main characters, and also tend to win more awards, girls are underrepresented in Chilean children’s literature – particularly in the period from 1990 to 2005.

The depiction of the family and its conflicts were also taken into consideration in this research. Following Colomer’s (1998) guidelines, I selected four possible depictions of the family: traditional, non-traditional, communal and indeterminate.

The type of family most frequently represented is the traditional one, appearing in 15 books. After this, non-traditional families – when only one adult is in charge of the child, being one of the parents or other relative – are portrayed in nine books. Communal families are not usually portrayed and appear only in three books, and there are only two stories with an indeterminate family structure.

These results show the rather conservative vision of the family portrayed in Chilean children’s literature, as 75% of the books display a traditional perspective of it, even when this structure is broken later due to the death of one of the protagonist’s parents. Because of this, readers are not exposed to different types of families, like single, adopted or same-sex parents. The concept of family in the award-winning books from the last 25 years is very traditional and specific.

Regarding new features that the books may show, I looked for transgressions of literary norms, that is, the appearance of postmodern features - such as multiple narratives, metafiction, parody, among others (Thacker and Webb, 2002) – in the stories. From the 58 chapter books considered in this research, only three included some kind of literary experiment, all of them published after 2009. This shows that the inclusion of literary transgressions in books for children is not very common in current award-winning Chilean literature.

The last topic I wish to approach is the closure of the narratives; I have divided the endings into four categories: happy, positive, open or negative ending. Happy endings were the most used by the authors, 18 books have a resolved ending, without loose ends. Positive endings, where the protagonist may or may not resolve the conflict but assumes the problem, were used in seven books. Open endings were used in only two chapter books, both awarded in 2014, and negative endings are present in also two of the books.

Contrary to the current international trends, in which “happy endings are less in vogue than they once were” (Meek, 1996, p. 7), in Chilean children’s literature this type of ending remains predominant. This points to the fact that the narrative tendencies are more conservative, since there is not much experimentation with the content nor the form of the narratives.


The growing number of children’s books published in Chile has allowed the rise of non-traditional books in the national scene. One example of this rise is the creation of new awards and the recognition of narratives in different formats, such as comics, graphic novels, illustrated poetry and picturebooks since 2005. Chapter books, nonetheless, were the most awarded books over the last 25 years, and that is the main reason why they were the selected genre for this study.

Several topics were discussed during the analysis, which provided information about the characteristics of contemporary Chilean children's literature. One of the main findings is that the themes presented in these books are rather conservative in nature; the representation of the family structure is strongly linked to the traditional vision of a family. In addition, there is an omission of provocative and transgressive themes in the majority of the chapter books, as well as a lack of open endings, which reveals an overprotective stance towards the reader.

Certainly, these findings are about the award-winning books from the last 25 years and they do not represent the truth about all the children’s books published in Chile in that period of time. The results, however, raise several questions regarding the relationship between children and adults’ choices, and how adults define the contents, experiences and world visions that are suitable for young readers.

For example, from the information provided by a survey from Fundación La Fuente (2013) it was established that most of the genres of the award-winning books do not match the children’s preferences regarding what they like to read. This gap between what adults and children like casts doubts on the books selected and their relation to each of the readers.

Finally, this investigation exposes several areas of Chilean children’s literature that need to be researched thoughtfully. There is not just a lack of historical studies that can provide us with information about the image of the child and of childhood presented by Chilean writers at different points of time, we also need to approach gender issues and representations, the family genre and its changes according to modern life, postmodern features and new formats, and many more topics that have yet to be fully explored.


Colomer, T. (1998). La formación del lector literario. Narrativa infantil y juvenil actual. Madrid: Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez.

Fundación La Fuente (2013). Esto no es un cuento. [Online] Available from: http://www.fundacionlafuente.cl/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Estudio-Esto-no-es-un-cuento.pdf 

Meek, M. (1996). “Introduction”. In Hunt, P. (ed.). International Companion Encyclopaedia of Children's Literature. London: Routledge.

Peña, M. (1982). Historia de la literatura infantil chilena. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Andrés Bello. Available from: http://www.memoriachilena.cl/archivos2/pdfs/mc0011016.pdf

Thacker, D. & Webb, J. (2002). ‘Playful subversion’. Introducing Children’s Literature. From Romanticism to Postmodernism. London: Routledge.

Yokota, J. (2011). ‘Awards in Literature for Children and Adolescents’. In: Wolf, S. (ed.). Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature. New York: Routledge.

[1] Historia de la literatura infantil chilena
[2] The unknown book was never published.

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: http://www3.inegi.org.mx/sistemas/temas/default.aspx?s=est&c=17484 [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).