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Picture books and critical literacy: using multimodal interaction analysis to examine children’s engagements with a picture book about war and child refugees

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>22/03/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Australian Journal of Language and Literacy
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)61-74
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this paper, we explore how a group of 10 and 11-year-old primary school children engage with a picture book about a refugee boy from Somalia. As we examine in some detail a video-recording of the children’s discussion, we suggest that the children’s emotional engagement with the story was pivotal to not only their making sense of the book but to their critical discussion of the issues the story raised. The discussion we report on here was part of a wider project to examine the use of picture books for critical literacy in schools. Critical literacy is often discussed as a rational endeavour, where children are invited to ask analytical questions about the message a text seeks to communicate and the means by which this is achieved. Following others, for example Anwarrudin (2016), who have challenged this focus on rationalism, we explore the role of emotions in our session. Our data shows that the children’s critical-analytical discussions of the story were closely connected with their emotional engagement. We use Norris’(2004) multimodal interaction analysis to examine the children’s emotional and embodied engagement with the book and its story. This analysis of the children’s words, gestures, posture, gaze and voice quality reveals the complexity of their reactions to the book and specifically the role of ‘emotional collisions’ (Kuby 2012, p. 35) in provoking embodied and affective reactions but also intellectual curiosity and ‘critical engagement’ (Johnson and Vasudevan 2012, p. 35). With regards to the role of picture books in critical literacy pedagogy, our paper offers teachers new insights into what processes of thinking, feeling and communicating they can expect to be part of critical literacy lessons.