Reviews 2009

Stories, Pictures & Reality

Stories, Pictures & Reality: Two children tell. Virgina Lowe. London, New York: Routledge, 2007. 188 pages. USD 47.98 (paperback).

Stories, Pictures & Reality is a comprehensive and inspirational study of two children and their initiation into the world of books, track-recorded and analyzed by their librarian parents. This well-researched work is full of pertinent and sensitive insights into the relationship between books and children, refreshingly free from academic jargon. The fact that the children in this case study have been privileged kids, loved and nurtured with care by their book-loving parents, can make such a study highly subjective. The author herself is very much aware of this risk, but the book steers clear of potential hazards such as lopsided generalization, polemics jarring the dialogue, and ready prescriptions offered out of unconscious patronization. As a result, the book is a helpful tool for teachers, researchers of children’s books and new parents wanting to create life-long readers, and it even provides relevant reference material for developing countries that have challenging situations of an altogether different kind. Stories, Pictures & Reality is meant for all those who believe in the innate strength of a book and its place in a child’s life, starting with cognitive skill-building and going much beyond.

The elaborate journal entries made by the author and her husband John, the parents of Rebecca and Ralph, take up the challenge to trace, as systematically as possible, the measurable growth of the relationship between child and book from birth to the age of eight. The result is first presented in a clear table format. What follows in two important chapters (“‘More Book’: Infant book behavior” and “This one is exotic and not real too! What is real and what is pretend?”) is worth looking at from different perspectives, despite the differences in the reading cultures and the way children respond to books. The author challenges the popular belief shared by cognitive psychologists, theorists and teachers alike that children have no understanding of reality and pretence until they are about seven years old (1; 5). Virginia Lowe makes an eloquent appeal urging adults to trust the child’s intelligence and sensitivity to appreciate the reality in a given book. She highlights in several telling examples that children build their perception of a story by negotiating between logic and imagination and Lowe thus defies any attempt of constructing a linear developmental pattern. The contradictions reflected in the children’ book-related behavior happily coexist in the mind of the child, frequently surprising the adults. An example of picking up a “reality word” is Rebecca declaring at the age of 2 years and 10 months, “I am Tigger pretending to be Eeyore” (45); or Ralph at 3 years and 1 month, coming up with “[t]hat tortoise is looking sad because he wants to be a real tortoise. Don’t cry tortoise, I will make you real with my magic thing” (49).

The responses of the two children recorded in journals at various stages of their growth make a substantial contribution to what Peter Hunt calls “childist criticism” and such reactions need to be looked into much more seriously, all over the world. The afterward is written by Rebecca Lowe herself, now 34 years old. It paradoxically reveals how a parent’s perception of a child’s response can be very different from the child’s own thinking. As Rebecca Lowe argues: “I firmly believe that an adult can never hope to understand a child’s mind; the differences are just too fundamental” (167). Lowe’s discussions of ideology, identity, the visual appeal of books and the child’s ability to respond to style are equally interesting, as are her observations of emotion and different kinds of humor that help children enjoy the company of books. She is aware of the formidable challenges posed by multimedia and other alternatives to reading that the book faces today, and concludes with a moving plea to foster “the love of literature in babies and young children. Ply them with books, read the actual words, and thus keep their creativity and imagination alive. They can even learn what is real in the process, which can only be a good thing” (164). Academics, teachers, librarians and parents – actually all those who are passionate about exploring the wonderful phenomenon of emerging readers – will find this book gainfully enjoyable.

Arundhati Deosthale
A & A Book Trust, India