The major. aim of this study was to investigate children's ways of making meaning of complex literary texts. Research by Heath and Bourdieu has shown that cultural dispositions vary in different communities. They claim that children's narratives and cultural practices are related to informal socialization in their home environments. Similarly, Olson claims that formal socialization (school) and informal socialization in the realm of reading and writing affect children's metacognitive abilities, particularly their ways of differentiating between what is said and what is meant.
The study investigates children's reasoning around ironic and metaphorical aspects of literary texts, as well as other types of recursive thinking, such as children's thoughts about fictional characters' thoughts and feelings, as well as their thinking about fictional characters' thinking about other fictional characters' underlying intentions. Two texts were chosen that are quite rich in double meanings and language play: a short story by Tove Jansson, "The Spring Tune" (1962; Tales from Moominvalley), and A. A. Milne's Chapter VI "In Which Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents" (1926; Winnie-the-Pooh). These texts are highly valued within the literary community, and yet aspects of both are sometimes considered to be beyond the reach of children.
Each story was read aloud by the investigator to each child individually, and an informal, conversation-like interview followed (partly inspired by Piaget's methode clinique). A total of 110 children took part in the study, evenly divided between preschoolers (6-year olds), and school children (8-year olds). 40 children took part in Study I (Jansson), 70 children in Study II (Milne). In Study I, the children were recruited from two different communities (that were chosen for potential variation in type of informal socialization).
In a meaningful context and with authentic-literary texts (as opposed to contrived "stimulus" stories often used in story grammar and much experimental research), even preschoolers were able to talk about irony, metaphor, and other types of underlying messages. At the same time, the children's story reconstructions revealed that they often construed stories of their own. These stories were coherent, but the stories and the children's reasoning seemed to reflect deviations from conventionalframes of interpretation (as in the children's implicit expectations about"fair" and "happy" endings, as well as in their interpretations in terms of uncomplicated- good or bad- characters).
The children's responses were related to age on the one hand, and type of community on the other. Generally, the preschoolers were less inclined to attribute false beliefs or deceptive intentions to the fictional characters or to make other complex psychological inferences. The children's responses differed in the two communities in terms of levels of coherence in the children's retellings and in their ways of ascribing psychological motiVes to the fictional characters.
Linköping: Linköpings universitet , 1994. , 292 p.
1994-10-31, Sal C 3, Hus C, Universitetsområdet Valla, Linköping, 13:15 (Swedish)