The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 24

Resourceful Research


This study examines how third grade students practiced critical literacy during literature discussion with multicultural literature. The literature discussions were analyzed according to Lewison et al.’s (2002) four dimensions of critical literacy. When the children discussed the books that address historical events, two dimensions of critical literacy, interrogating multiple viewpoints and focusing on social justice issues, were observed. However, the children needed a teacher’s help with disrupting the commonplace and taking actions for social justice. The results imply that literature discussion with multicultural literature can be a place for practicing critical literacy. However, teachers need to monitor children’s talk and guide students to take actions for social change.

Teachers and researchers have shown that children not only learn about different cultures, they can also learn about social justice issues and historical events through multicultural children’s literature (Haddix & Price-Dennis, 2013; Tyson & Park, 2006). We draw upon Gopalakrishnan’s (2011) definition of multicultural literature which states, “It’s about the sociocultural experiences of previously underrepresented groups. It validates these groups’ experiences, including those occurring because of differences in language, race, gender, class, ethnicity, identity…….” (p. 5). Talking about traumatic historical events such as the holocaust, slavery, and internment with children is not an easy task; however, through reading and discussing multicultural children’s literature, children can have an opportunity to make sense of those issues (Cai, 1998; Ching, 2005; Rogers & Mosley, 2006; Tyson & Park, 2006). Even though some of these historical events are heart-breaking and represent a sociopolitical context that children living in the 21st century do not experience in their daily lives, students benefit from the opportunity to interrogate the circumstances of these traumas through suitable text (Youngs, 2012).

Critical Literacy

We believe that children should have space in the curriculum to learn about and debate issues of social justice and historical events present in literature. If teachers want children to think about social justice issues critically, they need to select books that address those issues and provide intentional invitations that guide children to talk about those topics from multiple perspectives (Labadie, Wetzel, & Rogers, 2012). The term literacy is commonly used to refer to the ability to read and write. By expanding that definition to account for cultural influences, one could understand how literacies are contextual and can be used as a tool to contest unjust situations and to get work done. Given that, we believe critical literacy (Freire, 1970) is a heuristic that classroom teachers can use to investigate how power circulates in a text and positions characters as either agents of change or victims. Critical literacy is the practice of working to understand and examine the relationship among knowledge, power, and oppression in society. Engaging in critical literacy practices allows the reader to examine texts with the goal of identifying and disrupting social constructs that promote or sustain inequitable practices. In general, critical literacy attends to sociopolitical and sociocultural dimensions of learning by challenging how knowledge is constructed and circulated.

Drawing on Lewison, Flint, and Van Sluys’s study (2002), four dimensions of critical literacy as the primary frame of analysis provided insight into the processes that the teacher and the first author used to plan and implement critical practices in the classrooms to support students’ understanding of historical events from multiple perspectives. The four dimensions are: disrupting the commonplace, interrogating multiple viewpoints, focusing on

Faithful Elephants: Practicing Critical Literacy With Multicultural Children’s Literature

Jongsun Wee and Detra Price-Dennis