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.