by Virginia Lowe
A new interview is in the AKG online magazine: Click here for details
Read a review by Maurice Saxby, Spring 2007.
Based on an extensive reading journal in which Virginia recorded all the books read to her two children and their responses to them, this study looks at young children’s understanding of the reality status of stories and pictures. Here are four year olds declaring “animals don’t talk” and listing their “favourite not-real people”. There is the understanding that books have creators, with a three year old showing a clear recognition of specific illustrators’ styles.
The children are shown responding to the incongruity of humour - frequently to word play and the humour of characters, not merely to slapstick. They recognise illustrated emotions, and understand that book characters have feelings and thoughts which drive the plots. They identify with characters, through statements and through play.
Piaget and many others have declared that children cannot understand reality and pretence until they are about seven. Similarly more recent researchers show that there is no clear understanding that other people have minds, until about age four. These are just two examples of common thought that are overturned by this study. The children are not exceptional except in their book exposure - and in there being someone who recorded their every book-related comment.
There are no other published records of infants with books in this sort of detail. Most begin at two. Here are first responses to pictures at four and six months, with definite recognition of faces and of specific favourite pictures. The difference in response between the siblings is clear, and there is also the interaction between the two. Moreover, no other study records the reading behaviour of a male child. In these times of anxiety about inspiring boys to read, this is a valuable document in showing the early beginnings of enthusiasm for books.
“Don’t underestimate babies and children. Ply them with books, read the actual words, and thus keep their creativity and imagination alive. They’ll even learn what is ‘real’ in the process, which can only be a good thing.”
Virginia's book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell has been published by Routledge (London) in November, 2006. You can order a copy from Virginia.