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A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE BOOKS READ ALOUD BY KINDERGARTEN
TEACHERS AND THEIR REASONS FOR BOOK SELECTION
KATRINA WILLARD HALL
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Katrina Willard Hall
This dissertation is dedicated to my family and my students.
This dissertation would not have been possible if not for the support and
encouragement of many concerned individuals along the way. First, I thank
Dr. Linda L. Lamme. Her dedication to the field of literacy and her depth of knowledge
about children' s literature are phenomenal. On a personal level, her belief in me has been
a source of strength as she facilitated my learning throughout the years. She sacrificed
many weekends and late nights reading my writing, and helping me mold my thoughts
into a cohesive work. I count her as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.
Many thanks go to Dr. John Cech, Dr. Ruth Lowery, and Dr. Ann McGill-Franzen
for their guidance regarding this proj ect. I deeply appreciate the time and effort they put
into making my study stronger. Dr. Cech' s comprehensive knowledge of children' s
literature, literary theory, and content analysis was a wonderful help. Dr. Lowery's
background in diversity and content analysis aided me greatly. Dr. McGill-Franzen, with
her vast experience with young children and books, added tremendous insight.
In addition, I must thank the fellow learners who assisted with the content analysis.
Their perspectives were invaluable and added richness while their challenging questions
kept me thinking. I thank the teachers who took the time to complete the questionnaires
and book logs. Teachers' lives are busy, and I am grateful for the minutes spent on this
study that could have been spent elsewhere. I am especially indebted to the teachers who
shared their beliefs and feelings, and allowed me to observe them reading aloud to their
Finally, thanks go to my family, especially my parents, whose support has always
been unconditional, and whose love of books and learning shaped the way I think. I am
blessed to have a husband whose faith in me never wavered. I would not have finished
this dissertation without his encouragement. Last, but never least, I thank my
kindergarten students for their wisdom, their humor, and their ability to really see. They
started the wondering that became the seed for this study.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... iv
LI ST OF T ABLE S ........._..... .............._ viii...._......
AB S TRAC T ......_ ................. ............_........x
1 INTRODUCTION ................. ...............1.......... ......
Nature of the Problem ................. ...............1................
Purpose of the Study ................. ...............9.......... .....
2 REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE ................. ...............14........... ...
Critical Theory ................... ......... .. .. ........ ... .. ...........1
Critical Theory, Critical Literacy and Book Content Issues............... .................2
Multicultural Theory............... ...............22.
M multicultural Identity .................. ............ ...............24......
Reader-Response Criticism and Theory .............. ...............27....
Teachers Conducting Read-Alouds .............. ...............38....
Teachers as Readers ................. ...............42........... ....
Children' s Literature............... ...............4
Sum m ary ................. ...............65.......... ......
3 M ETHOD .............. ...............67....
Purpose .............. ...............67....
Setting ................. ............ ...............70.......
Design and Procedures .............. ...............71....
Limitations ................. ...............81.................
4 WHAT AND WHY KINDERGARTEN TEACHERS READ ALOUD: FINDINGS
FROM THE QUESTIONNAIRES ................. ...............83........... ....
Participants ............... ...... ..... .... .........8
Teacher, Student, and School Demographics ................. ..............................83
Questionnaire Results .............. ...............87....
Summary ................. ...............96.................
5 WHAT KINDERGARTEN TEACHERS READ ALOUD: FINDINGS FROM THE
READ-ALOUD LOGS ................. ...............99.................
Book-Logs ............... ........ .. .............9
Books Read Aloud by the Teachers............... ...............10
Total number of books ................... ........ ..... ........ ....... .. ..........10
Total number of books by both White & non-White authors/ ................. ............... 100
428 ................. ...............100..
Defining the Genres ................. ...............104................
Books Read Aloud ................. ...............111................
Award-Winning Literature ................. ......... ...............113......
Summary ................. ...............142................
6 WHAT AND WHY KINDERGARTEN TEACHERS READ ALOUD: FINDINGS
FROM THE INTERVIEWS................ ..............14
Introducti on ................. .. ........ .... .......... ............14
Descriptions of Setting and Participants ................. ........... ....... ... ........ .......14
Jackson Elementary Teachers, Students, Classrooms, and Observations ................156
Sunshine Elementary Teachers, Students, Classrooms, and Schedules ...................189
Summary ................. ...............209......... ......
7 CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS .............. ...............213....
Discussion ................. ...............213................
Conclusion ................ ...............226................
Limitations ................. ...............229................
Im plications .............. ...............230....
A INSTRUMENTS .............. ...............234....
B BOOK LIST................ ...............242.
LIST OF REFERENCES ................. ...............252................
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ...............278....
LIST OF TABLES
1 Number, gender, and race of teachers responding to questionnaire. ................... .....84
2 Kindergarten teacher degrees held and early childhood certification ................... ...84
3 Years of teaching experience ................. ......... ...............85.....
4 Average class size and average number of male and female students ................... ..85
5 Ethnicity and race of students in seven rural classrooms............... ...............8
6 Ethnicity and race of students in twelve west side classrooms .............. .... ........._..86
7 Ethnicity and race of students in nine east side classrooms ........._.._.. .........._.._.....86
8 Reading aloud practices of teachers ...._.._.._ ... .....__. ...._.._ ...........8
9 Kindergarten children's access to school library .............. ...............88....
10 Why teachers say they read aloud to their students............... ...............89
11 Teachers' least important reasons to read aloud .............. ...............90....
12 Factors impacting teachers' read aloud decisions.........._.._.. .......__. ........._.90
13 Student preferences for book according to teachers............... ...............91
14 Where teachers get the books they read aloud .............. ...............92....
15 Books read aloud the first day of school .............. ...............93....
16 Books read aloud by the teachers ................. ...............100........... ..
17 Summary of the book publication dates ................. ...............103........... ..
18 Summary of the books and genres read aloud ................. ......... ................11 1
19 Summary of the maj or awards for the books read aloud ................. ................. .1 14
20 Books on the read aloud logs that received awards ................. ............ .........116
21 Content and themes of the books read aloud ................. .......___ ........._._. 119
22 Types of characters in the books read aloud .............. .....................128
23 Race of students in 18 classrooms and protagonists in 110 books. ................... .....134
24 Gender of human protagonists in books read aloud ................. ............ .........137
25 Summary of social class in 428 books read aloud .............. .....................4
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE BOOKS READ ALOUD BY KINDERGARTEN
TEACHERS AND THEIR REASONS FOR BOOK SELECTION
Katrina Willard Hall
Chair: Linda Leonard Lamme
Major Department: Teaching and Learning
Since most kindergartners cannot yet read, the books that teachers choose to read
aloud have an impact far beyond their entertainment factor. Reading aloud is an
important part of the reading curriculum in emergent literacy, and there is little research
that examines the content of books that teachers read aloud. This study used multiple
data-collection strategies (including a questionnaire, interviews with and observations of
the teachers, and book logs) to examine the content of books read aloud; and teachers'
strategies and reasons for book selection.
I analyzed a total of 428 books from teachers' book logs during three different
weeks for genre, content, theme, and for issues of gender, race and ethnicity, and social
class. The books read aloud by the teachers were similar throughout the district, despite
the fact that the schools varied a great deal with regard to demographics. Most of the
books read aloud related to social studies or science unit content, or reading or math
skills, and half were categorized in the fantasy genre. The vast maj ority of the books
contained White middle-class characters or animal characters in middle-class settings.
Findings suggest that the kindergarten teachers in this study had a limited view of
purposes for reading aloud and of opportunities for learning through exposure to a wide
variety of types of literature. In addition, they did not appear to recognize the importance
of providing their students with a diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural selection of
read-aloud books. In light of the racial gap between on-level and below-level readers,
further research needs to be done on the kinds of books that teachers read aloud; and on
the cultural match between the books and the children in the classrooms. This study
suggests a need for professional development on the role of literature in the education of
Nature of the Problem
Kindergarten is often the first public-school experience for young children: the start
of their elementary education. Children enter kindergarten with vastly different literacy
backgrounds (West, Denton, & Germino-Hausken, 2000). Some children's parents have
read aloud to them since they were born, while others have had little exposure to or
experience with books (Heath, 1983; Huck, 1992; Smith, 1997; Sulzby, 1985; Taylor,
1983). Children who spend time in early-childcare facilities or preschools also come to
kindergarten with a wide range of experience with books and reading (Gallas, 1997;
Goodman & Alterwerger, 1981; Lindfors, 1987; Monson, Howe, & Greenlee, 1989;
Russell, 2001; Zill, Collins, West, & Germino-Hausken, 1995). Further, kindergarten is a
complex time and place for children (McCadden, 1998; West et al. 2000); it is often their
first real exposure to persons of a different race or ethnicity than that of their families
(Durkin, 1975; Paley, 1981; West et al. 2000). One task of the kindergarten teacher is,
therefore, to build on children's prior experiences while at the same time exposing them
to the language of literature and life beyond their neighborhoods (Au, 1998; Paley, 1981).
Many children begin to learn to read through responses to stories and read-aloud
literature (Elley, 1998; Karolides, 1997; Lindfors, 1987; van Kleeck; 2003). Reading
aloud to young children has long been accepted as a powerful tool to promote a love of
reading and to foster literacy (Butler, 1985; Cambourne, 1988; Durkin, 1966; Elley,
1998; Teale, 1984). In addition to being a pleasant activity (Wells, 1986), research shows
that reading aloud can affect children's understandings of story patterns and structures,
vocabulary, and word knowledge; and can increase print awareness (Bus, van Ijzendoorn,
& Pellingrini, 1995; Clay, 1979; de Jong & Bus, 2002; Dickinson & Smith, 1994;
Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Elley, 1998; Goodman & Alterwerger, 1981; Lehr, 1988).
Further, research suggests that teachers, through their selections of read-aloud books, can
positively affect their students' higher-order thinking skills and their students' verbal and
written responses to books (Creighton, 1997; Eckoff, 1983; Kiefer, 1982; Kosanovich,
1996; Lancia, 1997; Lehr, 1995; Lurie, 1990; Many, Wiseman, & Altieri, 1996)
In addition to impacting children's emergent literacy, research indicates that
teachers can impact their students in other ways through the books they choose to read
aloud. Not only can teachers sway students' genre and book preferences; teachers can
also influence their students' values, ethics, and their attitudes about others (Barnes,
1991; Darigan, 1991; Fry, 1994; Hall, 2000; Jantz, Seefeldt, Galper, & Serock, 1976;
Kramer & Radey, 1997; Merenda & White-Williams, 2001; Smith, 1993).
Reading aloud "weighty" books (with issues such as diversity or social justice) can
deepen students' understandings about themselves and the world around them (Teale,
2003, p. 127). This type of literature allows students to "find themselves, imagine others,
value difference, and search for justice. They gain connectedness and see vision. They
become the literate thinkers we need to shape the decisions for tomorrow" (Langer, 1995,
Most kindergarten teachers read aloud to their students on a regular basis, and since
many kindergarten students do not enter as fluent readers, they are dependent upon
teachers and other adults in their lives for their reading experiences (Galda & Cullinan,
1991; Klesius & Griffith, 1996; Martinez & Roser, 1985; West et al. 2000). Thus, the
reading aloud program in kindergarten can be an important factor in establishing literary
preferences and questioning behaviors (Hickman, 1981; Lehr, 1988; May, 1995;
McGillis, 1988). Kindergarten classrooms provide communities where children "learn to
value literacy as integral to their lives and to practice literate ways of knowing and
talking" (McGill-Franzen & Lanford, 1994, p. 270). Martinez & Roser (1985) noted that
reading aloud to children is a three-pronged event involving the child, the adult, and the
book. Although a great deal of research has been done on the quality of the interaction
during the read-aloud event, and on the effect of genre, little attention has been paid to
how the actual books themselves might influence children's emergent literacy
development (Cai & Traw, 1997; Elster, 1998; Pellegrini & Galda, 2003). In fact, van
Kleeck (2003) described the study of book characteristics as the "ignored dimension of
the adult-child-triad" (p. 280). According to Barrera & Bauer (2003), "the text is a key
component of storybook reading" (p. 262). They and other researchers note the
importance of studying what books are read aloud to young children (Teale, 2003; van
In addition to its literacy function, children's literature is filled with social and
ethical ideologies, making it vital that we understand the content of the books
kindergarten teachers read aloud (Egoff, 1981; Harris, 2003; Stephens, 1992; Sutherland,
1985). Peter Hunt (1995) argued that it is impossible for a children's book not to be
"educational or influential in some way; it cannot help but reflect an ideology. All books
must teach something" (p. 3). Children's literature has long been considered a vehicle for
transmitting the accepted values and morals of our society (Apol, 1998; Harris, 1999;
Sutherland, 1985). Soter and Letcher (1998) proposed that children's literature has been
included in the school curriculum as a device to transmit cultural values; a tool for
teaching literary interpretations and analysis; and a way to teach morals and what our
society deems acceptable. Giroux (2000) affirmed this, stating that through their
selections, teachers consciously and unconsciously transmit cultural, political, and moral
values to their students. Clearly, teaching is not merely instructional practice; it is highly
political as well (Miller, 1997). Theorists posit that both teaching and learning are
political because those in power make decisions on what to publish based on particular
agendas, and access to knowledge is restricted and censored according to what those in
power value or want transmitted (Banks, 1994; Giroux, 2000).
In fact, critical theorists argue that the knowledge being overtly and covertly
transmitted through schools is a representation of the dominant culture and ruling groups,
thereby excluding those who are not members (Apple, 1996; Banks, 1994; Delpit, 1988).
Children as a group have little power, and are at the mercy of what adults tell them is
truth, all the while themselves being culturally situated and developing their own
conceptions of literacy, culture, and society (Apol, 1998; Gutmann, 1987). Adults write
children' s literature for children, and adults make the decisions of what knowledge and
values should be transmitted (Asch, 2000; Nodelman, 1996). To complicate matters,
maj or publishers have absorbed or bought out many smaller publishers and booksellers,
diminishing the potential for diversity in books (Hade, 2002). As a result, a handful of
adults are in charge of what is published for children and decisions are oftentimes based
on profit margin and available storage space (Nodelman, 1996; Hade, 2002). Hibbitts
(1994) argued that the diversity of children' s books is also impacted negatively by the
fact that the mainstream culture is responsible for creating the images of individuals from
non-mainstream cultures based on their personal assumptions and misperceptions.
From this selection of children' s literature, teachers then further make choices
about what to transmit to their students, with issues such as curriculum and time restraints
driving their decisions (Nodelman, 1996). Since young children are usually not
independent readers, kindergarten teachers' choices of what information and what books
to promote are particularly significant. These young children are highly dependent on the
adults (including teachers) in their world for information and knowledge (Greene, 1988).
Teachers are the gatekeepers of the classrooms, which are seen as sites for learning
(Banks, 1994). Through inclusion or omission, teachers are responsible for a great deal
of what their students read and learn about. Kindergarten teachers control (to a large
degree) the access their students have to books through their read-aloud decisions. They
also, for a variety of reasons, make deliberate choices to privilege certain books over
others, and teach their students to "prefer or privilege certain experiences and
knowledge" (McGill-Franzen & Lanford, 1994, p.270). Teachers have no choice but to
censor, because of time or curriculum restraints, availability or access, or personal values.
Since literature is a powerful conduit to developing cognizance and meaning within the
classroom, what teachers choose to privilege in their read-aloud sessions is significant
(Au, 1998; Greene, 1988).
According to Bruner (1990), human beings are born with the need to generate
meaning. As part of their meaning-making, students use the context of the narrative form
and its fit within their cultural understandings (Bettelheim, 1995; Greene, 1995).
Literature has a powerful impact on children's language and reading, as well on their
cultural knowledge (Baghban, 1984; Butler, 1975; Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Durkin,
1966; Eldredge & Butterfield, 1986; Galda, 2001; Hickman, 1981; Lehr, 1991). Miller
(1997) stated that individuals develop their identity through their culture. "As part of that
culture, literature both makes and remakes its readers, especially but not only, in school"
(Greene, 1988, p. 187). Literature, with its ability to expose readers to a wide range of
thoughts and ideas, both implicit and explicit, allows readers to live other lives
vicariously and learn about human nature (Ladson-Billings, 1998; Soter & Letcher, 1998;
Willis & Harris, 2000). Greene (1988) suggested that looking closely at literary texts
enables teachers and students to "perceive their own illusions and stereotypes, even as
they expose them to the multiple ways in which the world means to those inhabiting it"
(p. 187). Nodelman (1996) agreed, adding that literature offers children a picture of the
world and of how they fit if the "representation is persuasive, it will become the world
that those child readers believe they live in" (p.91). Troublesome is the idea that perhaps
"these texts do not reflect reality, they promote a certain version of reality, and they
position their readers within a certain version of reality as well" (Apol, 1998, p. 33).
Therefore, studying what impact teachers' read-aloud choices might have on their
students' identity creation and meaning-making is important (Strickland, 1994).
In this study, I explored the reasons why kindergarten teachers say they read
particular books aloud and used a critical theory-based wondering perspective as a lens
for analyzing the content of the books they read aloud to their students over a period of
time. Although a broad field of study, many critical theorists ask questions revolving
around the concept of power, asking who is in control and how the actions of those in
power affect others. Jay (1973) noted that the term "critical" is difficult to define, but
that it involves questioning what is accepted as the norm and examining closely what is
taken for granted. This questioning fosters deeper understanding, which allows one to be
conscious of choices one makes, and enables one to be more deliberate (Hinchey, 1998).
The basis of all critical theory is "an aversion to closed philosophical systems. To
present it as such would therefore distort its essentially open-ended, probing, and
unfinished quality" (Jay, 1973, p. 41). As a lens for looking at children's literature,
critical theory allowed me to examine the books from "as many different perspectives as
possible" in order to gain insight into what access students have to ideas, what
perspectives are presented, and to what assumptions and "truths" children are exposed
(Hinchey, 1998, p. 73). I used the aspects of critical theory to "read against the grain"
(Mendoza & Reese, 2001, p. 18).
Children's literature research varies with regard to what is studied as well as how
the studies are conducted, and can be focused on such subj ects as content analysis or
reading-interest studies. "Research on children's literature also overlaps research in other
areas, such as research on emergent literacy, literature-based instruction, reading
comprehension, reading motivation and attitudes, and response to literature" (Galda, Ash,
& Cullinan, 2000, p. 362). Reading aloud and response to literature have been studied in
kindergarten and the primary grades (Battle, 1993; Feitelson et al. 1993; Sipe, 1997), and
in preschool and childcare settings (McGill-Franzen & Langford, 1994). These studies
have shown that the style and genre of books as well as the number of times they are read
aloud impact students' comprehension, writing ability, enjoyment, and preferences
(Eckoff, 1983; Elster, 1998; Lehr, 1988; Martinez & Roser, 1985; Oyler & Barry, 1996;
Rosenhouse et al. 1997; Sipe, 1997).
Children's literature, primarily award-winning literature, has been studied from a
variety of content analysis approaches (Nodelman, 1996). However, few studies have
examined the actual books that kindergarten teachers read aloud (Elster, 1998; van
Kleeck, 2003). Studying these choices is important for least at two reasons. First,
teachers are "significant others" in young children's lives, and what they select and
choose to highlight or emphasize is considered noteworthy by their students (Cambourne,
1988; Gale & Densmore, 2000; Shannon, 1989; Smith, 1988). Teachers' literature
choices (whatever they are) send value-laden messages, endorsements, or rej sections to
their students (Hinchey, 1998; McCadden, 1998; Shannon, 1986). Further, the content of
books teachers choose to read aloud determines much of their students' exposure to many
topics and ideas when children are at a highly impressionable age (Applebee, 1978; Lehr,
1988; Morrow, 1988; Shine & Roser, 1999; Wells, 1986).
In content analysis, the researcher studies the book closely, scrutinizing the
illustrations and the language (Nodelman, 1996; Short, 1995). Some of the first content
analysis studies of children' s literature were quantitative. Questions about images were
first selected and then counted. More recently, the issues of gender, ethnicity, race, and
social class have been studied using critical theory as a base (Short, 1995). I approached
this content analysis from multiple perspectives (including genre, theme, content, gender,
race, ethnicity, and social class) in order to glean a more thorough picture of the books
read aloud. Although small in scope, the comprehensive nature of this analysis set it
apart from other analyses of children' s literature, which often highlight a single issue
such as gender or ethnicity. In addition, the analysis dealt wholly with the books that a
group of teachers selected to read aloud, not children' s books in general. Moreover, this
analysis fit within a framework of the particular classroom contexts, specifically the
demographics of each room where the books were read aloud, allowing for a closer
examination of the kind of access these children had to books read aloud in their
Purpose of the Study
The research study arose from a combination of personal experience and the
technical literature (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). As a kindergarten teacher, I had first-hand
experience of the power of the read-aloud event in the classroom. The books I read often
became the children's favorites. Through my selections, I influenced their opinions and
beliefs about a myriad of subjects. My personal observations were supported by the
technical literature on reading aloud (Barnes, 1991; Darigan, 1991; Kramer & Radey,
1997; Merenda & White-Williams, 2001). After researching the topic, I found that there
was a need for research on the actual books that teachers read aloud (Teale, 2003; van
Kleeck, 2003). As I formed the research question, l used Strauss and Corbin's (1990)
guidelines to set boundaries while keeping the question flexible. In qualitative research,
the concepts are not fully defined, but become more concrete as the study progresses.
Therefore, my initial question was to determine what kinds of access to books
kindergarten teachers provided to their students through their read-aloud events. As I
determined how to best get at this information, I kept in mind that I would use a grounded
theory approach, which meant that although I used the initial question to stay focused, I
would need to take care to avoid rigidity and assumptions, adjusting as necessary (Strauss
& Corbin, 1990).
The purpose of this study was to both examine the messages conveyed in the books
that a group of kindergarten teachers read aloud to their students and to explore the
reasons why teachers chose particular books to read aloud. After conducting a pilot
study, I sent a questionnaire to all kindergarten teachers at public schools in a
Southeastern school district to find out why teachers read aloud, the resources they used,
and the factors that went into their selections. Their responses gave me rich descriptive
data, which I charted using open coding, or looking at the responses line by line as I
developed categories of response (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). During the process, I
requested that teacher volunteers keep logs of books read aloud for three 1-week periods
during the last half of the school year.
I collected book logs of the books read aloud over three 1-week periods in March,
April, and May from each teacher who completed a questionnaire and agreed to keep the
log. I chose these months because they were well into the school year, when young
children typically are considered to have longer attention spans and when the kinds of
children's literature read aloud may be more complex and sophisticated (Darigan et al.
2002; May, 1995). Teachers often tie their read-aloud sessions to themes or particular
times of the year (Cullinan, 1989; Darigan et al. 2002). As such, I elected not to collect
book lists during February, African-American history month, because of the risk of the
book lists being skewed as a result.
After receiving the book logs, I did an in-depth analysis of the books, again using
open coding to develop categories for each focus area (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
I sorted by genre, and studied the books for theme, gender, race, ethnicity, and social
class. Although I have taken many children's literature courses, taught children's
literature to undergraduate and graduate students several semesters, and taught
kindergarten for 10 years, I am a White female immersed in the mainstream culture
(Helms, 1993). As such, I recruited four volunteer readers from various race and
socioeconomic class backgrounds to review selected books, and compared their
observations and analyses with my own.
After analyzing the books, I found that the books read aloud by the teachers were
similar at all schools, despite the vast difference in demographics. Most of the books
featured animals as people or White main characters. In light of the racial reading gap
between White and non-White students (Florida Department of Education, 2003), I
elected to narrow the focus on two schools with both high-poverty and high-minority
populations. I interviewed six teachers from these schools, and observed five of them
reading aloud. I studied closely the cultural match between the books these teachers read
and the students within their classrooms (Au & Raphael, 2000). These interviews and
observations helped corroborate the questionnaire and content analysis, and gave a more
in-depth look at the reasons why teachers read aloud the books they did.
A variety of research methods, including content analysis, questionnaire, personal
and phone interview, document collection, observation, and research j ournaling were
used to answer the following research questions:
Questions about Access:
How much and what kind of access to books did kindergarten teachers provide to
students through their read-aloud sessions?
What types (genre) of books did kindergarten teachers read aloud?
What reasons did kindergarten teachers give for selecting the books they read
aloud to their students?
Questions about Content:
*What were the themes and content of the books read aloud by kindergarten
teachers to their students?
Who were the authors and illustrators; were they "insiders" or "outsiders" to the
cultures they depicted (Fox & Short, 2003)?
What were the gender identities of the story characters?
What were the racial and ethnic identities of the story characters?
What were the socioeconomic class identities of the story characters?
What stereotypes were reinforced or countered in the books?
For the purposes of this study, I defined the following terms:
Read-aloud event: the event of reading a book orally to a group of children.
During these read-aloud sessions, students are sitting in close proximity to the teacher
and the book, with the teacher holding the book outwards facing the audience of children,
who listen and may participate as a group. The children may raise their hands to respond
or may engage in choral (group) response (Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson, 1999).
Read-aloud: the book that the teacher reads orally to a group of students (Lynch-
Brown & Tomlinson, 1999).
Literature: the published books that the teacher reads aloud to the student and to
the books that are present in the classroom or school library. In this study, I use the term
literature to refer to all books read aloud, including all genres as well as those oversized
books commonly called "Big Books" (Holdaway, 1982).
Big Books: the oversized books read aloud as shared-book experiences and
designed to resemble a more home-like learning environment. These books are typically
around 24" x 30" and have oversized print and illustrations. Teachers often use these
books to teach directionality, phonics, and language play (Holdaway, 1982; Lynch-
Brown & Tomlinson, 1999).
Access: the book being made available to the student throughout the read-aloud
event. During the interviews and observations I ascertained if the teachers believed that
their students responded or interacted with the book being read aloud, and if so, in what
Books: the various kinds of texts that teachers read aloud to their students. The
kinds of texts may be a variety of genres, including fiction, realistic fiction, fantasy, fairy
or folk tales, information or nonfiction, international, poetry or song. The texts may be a
combination of one or more genres, such as information encased in a fantasy format.
Culture: the set of shared beliefs, attitudes, goals, practices, and symbols that a
group possesses (Banks, 1988; Harris, 2003). The culture of children may also include
the classroom environment and childhood events such as losing a tooth (Heath, 1983). In
this study, I limit the definition of culture to the race, ethnicity, gender, and social class as
determined by free and reduced lunch populations of the classrooms.
Multiethnic: "groups such as those of African, Asian/Pacific Islander,
Latino/Latina, or Native American ancestry" (Harris, 2003, p. 119).
Multiculturalism: the education that addresses the interests, concerns, and
experiences of those considered to be outside of the sociopolitical and cultural
mainstream of American society (Taxel, 2003).
Social class: the socioeconomic class of the teachers, students, and books analyzed
in this study.
REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
This study was both a comprehensive content analysis of the books that
kindergarten teachers selected to read aloud to their students, and an in-depth look at how
a group of teachers determined their students' access to certain books. In the content
analysis, I studied the books holistically, examining the authors, illustrators, themes, and
genre. I analyzed the illustrations, how they interacted with the texts, and what kinds of
messages they transmitted (Lewis, 2001). Further, I examined issues of ethnicity, gender,
socioeconomic class, and family relationships as they were depicted in the books that this
group of teachers read aloud. With regard to access issues, I studied how teachers
selected books and what genres they selected. In addition, I analyzed the reasons why
they said they chose to read them aloud, as well as how often and the manner in which
they said they conducted read-aloud events.
To frame this study properly, it was imperative to have a theoretical understanding
of several areas, including critical theory and how it connects to book content, and reader
response theory. In addition, it was important to examine the research that has been done
in the area of children's literature content analysis, reading interests and preferences, as
well as research done on reading aloud.
Understanding how I planned to use critical theory and its relation to children's
literature in this study required an historical perspective. In the early 1920s, a group of
scholars (including Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Erich Fromm) formed the
Institute of Social Research, called the Frankfurt School, at the University of Frankfurt.
The group studied the power relations of society. Though their work was done early in
the century, it was not translated into English until the 1960s, when it then began to be
studied by university academicians, including philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who added
to the Frankfurt School's body of ideas during the 1970s. These theorists form the
bedrock of critical theory.
Critical theorists study the blending of society -analyzing how culture, individuals,
and institutions interact to create society as a whole, while looking at relations among
individuals and institutions. Horkheimer argued that the world is the result of how
society as a whole operates (Horkheimer, 1972; Jay, 1973).
Related to this idea, Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995) used the concept of critical
race theory to study the impact of race in education. Critical race theory is based on the
idea that race, class, and gender privilege White citizens of European heritage. She
argued that racism is so deeply woven into our society, including our education system,
that it cannot be extracted easily. In fact, research has indicated that non-White students
may not do well academically in school because of incongruence between their home
culture and that of the school (Au, 1998).
Further connecting the concepts of relations in society to the institution of
education, Paulo Freire, the Brazilian philosopher and educator, linked power with
literacy (Siegel & Fernandez, 2001). Freire studied the conditions of poverty in Brazil
during the 1960s and developed what is called a "critical pedagogy" or a "pedagogy of
liberation," arguing that humans have the ability to reflect and subsequently to change
their conditions and society. He termed this ability a "critical consciousness" or an
awareness of the underlying reasons for the cultural situation. By becoming aware,
Freire believed that people work toward changing their world for the better (Freire,
1973). With his emphasis on the value of literacy and thinking critically to create
change, Freire's (1973) perspective provides the basis for the questioning of the school
practices that keep the social and class structure of society intact and non-changing the
wealthy stay wealthy and the poor stay poor (Gibson, 1999; Giroux, 1983; Ladson-
In response to Freire' s critical pedagogy of power, poststructuralism (a reaction to
structuralism, which argued that all human activity is organized or structured rather than
natural or unstructured) challenged traditional cultural values and fostered a sense of
fragmentation, thus reshaping Freire's concept of critical pedagogy and power. Under
this poststructuralist umbrella, theorists such as Foucault (1977) argued that no theory is
universally true and that truth is "a thing of this world and is produced only by virtue of
multiple forms of restraint" (p. 79). Foucalt (1977) stated that people could not liberate
themselves simply by becoming critically conscious of their plight, because what they
believe are truths are in fact the effects of power spread throughout history and society.
Hinchey (1998) agreed that critical consciousness alone does not bring change,
suggesting that "an essential element of critical consciousness is praxis: action based on
reflection" (p. 145).
Kindergarten students are emergent readers and rely heavily on adults to provide
them information. Adults often give this knowledge through reading aloud children's
books (Klesius & Griffith, 1996). What books did teachers in this study privilege by
reading aloud, and why did they select those books? How often and how much access to
books through read-aloud sessions did the teachers give their students? Researchers
assert that many teachers fail to see or acknowledge minority students' cultures, which
may reflect in their read-aloud choices and practices (Perry & Fraser, 1993). Similarly,
other theorists suggest that the reader's background and culture plays a large part in his or
her comprehension and engagement with a literary text, which in turn affects learning
(Langer, 1995; Rosenblatt, 1938). McGlinn (2001) argued that young children in
particular see themselves as "the center of the world" and "want to see themselves and
their everyday lives in the stories they read" (p. 50). Were students' backgrounds taken
into account when kindergarten teachers selected books? Some theorists assert that
people develop their perspective of themselves and their lives based on their culture and
socially constructed reality (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). As a result, they sometimes are
not aware of their own biases or of those biases around them (Greene, 1988; Zeichner,
Teachers may speak of themselves and their students as being colorblind, yet
researchers have established that children notice race and have attitudes, opinions, and
preferences regarding race, gender, and the elderly as early as age 3 (Clark & Clark,
1950; Cross, 1991; Horowitz, 1939; Lasker, 1929; Minard, 1931; Phinney & Rotheram,
1987; Ramsey, 1987; Valli, 1995). Racial identity theorists Lawrence and Tatum (1998)
suggested that individuals from the mainstream White culture fall along a continuum of
awareness about race, and their perspectives affect their understanding of themselves and
others in various ways. With regard to children's literature, teachers (particularly those
from the mainstream culture) may struggle to be aware of their own biases as well as
those of publishers, authors, and illustrators (Nodelman, 1996; Sleeter; 1992; Strehle,
2001). My study examined whether kindergarten teachers appeared to be aware of their
personal biases or of the biases in the children' s literature they selected to read aloud;
whether they appeared to deliberately select books that fostered critical thinking or other
concepts; and whether or not they reflected on their selections and practices (May, 1995;
Using critical theory as a lens to study children's literature allowed for the meshing
of many viewpoints (including multicultural theory) as I examined the books that
teachers read aloud (May, 1995). Critical theory enables researchers to study how
authors rely on their readers' past literary experiences to help them understand what is
written in each new story, or to understand how the illustrations function in telling the
story (May, 1995; Nodelman, 1996).
I incorporated critical theory as the foundation to search for issues of theme,
gender, race, ethnicity, and social class in books that teachers favored by selecting them
to read aloud. Critical race researchers studying legal issues argue that language and
visual images, including illustrations and photographs, can be manipulated to continue
the practice of covert racism (Hibbitts, 1994). Other researchers have suggested that this
type of close analysis can be transferred to the area of children' s literature (Mendoza &
Reece, 2001). Further, theorists argue that children may not become readers and lovers
of literature if they do not see their own cultures and identities portrayed in books (Liaw,
1995; McGlinn, 2001; Sims, 1983). Recent studies suggest that children who have access
to authentic multicultural literature are better able to understand complex themes and
multiple perspectives (Martinez-Roldan & Lopez-Robertson, 1999; Medina, 2001; Short
& Fox, 2003). Although more accurate multicultural and multiethnic books are being
published, only about 7% of books published in 2000 were about or by people of color,
with most authors and illustrators being White and most children's books being about
White, middle-class culture (Fondrie, 2001). According to the University of Wisconsin-
Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center, a total of 5,000 books for children were
published in 2002 and African-Americans wrote or illustrated 69 of those books, while
another 166 were written about African-Americans by White authors. Two hundred and
forty-nine children's books were by or about all other non-Causian people (University of
Madi son-Wi sconsin, 2004). These stati stics support critical theori sts' argument that
those who are not from the maj ority culture have little control over the "production of the
images of themselves" (Mendoza & Reece, 2001). I studied the authors and illustrators
of the books the teachers read aloud, and compared the race and ethnicity of the book
characters to the students'. I researched whether the authors and illustrators were
"outsiders" or "insiders" to the topic or culture about which they wrote, and if that
appeared to affect the authenticity of the book (Fox & Short, 2003). I studied the content
of the books for evidence that the students' cultures were represented.
My study also examined how gender was depicted in the illustrations and text of
the books read aloud. For example, fairy tales, a favorite read-aloud of young children,
frequently present stereotypical gender roles such as the female as submissive and the
male powerful (Zipes, 1985). Similarly, historical fiction picture books often portray
females in traditional gender roles (Kolbe & LaVoie, 1981; Romines, 1997). In fact,
researchers and authors assert that children's literature perpetuates many potentially
dangerous male stereotypes, including aggressiveness and rebelliousness (Fox, 1993;
Nodelman, 2001). In a study of Newbery and Caldecott books published in the early
1990s, Ernst (1995) found that only two females were primary characters in the four
Newbery books studied. She noted that the two females were "followers" rather than
leaders and that the males in the books were leaders. In the 13 Caldecott Honor books
she studied, Ernst found that only two featured female protagonists, and that the one
courageous female used her bravery to help a male character succeed. Lehr (1995) found
that many female characters are portrayed as strong, but with feminine talents, such as
being able to heal or create nurturing homes. Pace and Lowery (2003) did an in-depth
study of Dulcie Dando, soccer star (Gliori, 1992) and found that gender stereotypes were
profound in the text. I wondered if there were stereotypical gender images in the books
that the kindergarten teachers read aloud to the students.
Along with gender, I studied the books that the teachers read aloud for evidence of
social class. Research suggests that social class stereotypes are prevalent in children's
literature (Nodelman, 2000; Rodman, 1994). For example, in a content analysis of 100
picture books, Rodman (1994) found that the dominant image of families were
traditional, intact Caucasian families residing in suburban or rural single-family detached
houses. Many children are not in nuclear suburban families and have a different schema
for "home" (Rodman, 1994). In a study of books about farmers and rural life, Kruse
(2001) found that stereotypical images of poor, usually dirty, primarily White males in
overalls dominated the illustrations. Children who are not familiar with rural areas or
farming may gain incorrect perceptions of contemporary rural culture or farming (Kruse,
2001). I analyzed the books that teachers read aloud for evidence of social class and
studied how closely the books appeared to match the social class of the students in that
classroom. I also examined the illustrations and texts for possible stereotypes.
Critical Theory, Critical Literacy and Book Content Issues
As mentioned, one possibility of a critical theory perspective is that it can provide a
foundation for analyzing our society's institutions and products (including our literature)
while looking for unequal power relations (Banks, 1988; Berger & Luckman, 1966;
Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). Within a critical theory perspective, critical literacy is a
thread closely connected to the pedagogy of learning in schools. Critical literacy has a
complex background; as such, I highlighted a few of the concepts to provide a base for
the study. Freire (1973) redefined literacy as not just the ability to read and write, but
rather as a political act involving studying the culture and society, and actively
transforming that culture or society. Critical literacy encompasses both literacy
instruction and social awareness and describes the acts of uncovering and improving
oppressive conditions (Gibson, 1999; Gore, 1993). However, Freire's definition of
critical literacy focuses primarily on class structure and has been criticized for being too
limiting. Feminists, for example, charge that Freire' s theory ignores the oppression that
arises from gender and racial inequalities (Weiler, 1991). Other theorists suggest that
Freire's critical pedagogy is as restrictive as the traditional educational practices he hoped
to replace (Gore, 1993).
Although current definitions of critical literacy vary, there are some commonalities.
It is important to note that critical literacy differs from "functional literacy," which is
defined as the "technical mastery of particular skills used to decode simple texts"
(Kanpol, 1999, p. 54). Critical literacy is a "social and political practice rather than a set
of neutral, psychological skills" (Siegel & Fernandez, 2001, p. 149). Our body of
literature itself is considered a social construction, and it too is a political product (Apple,
1996; Banks, 1990; Giroux, 2000). "Critical literacy empowers individuals in the
postmodern sense to analyze and synthesize the culture of the school and their own
particular culture circumstances" (Kanpol, 1999, p. 54). Critical literacy theorists
examine and question practices and policies of traditional literacy education that keep the
social structure of our culture intact. Critical literacy practitioners consciously divide
their students into diverse groups and select literature that supports critical thinking and
transformation (Kanpol, 1999). In short, critical literacy attempts to improve the current
state of literacy education by questioning assumptions, uncovering unequal or unjust
power relations, and by facilitating positive change (Anderson & Irvine, 1993).
Critical literacy theorists support the use of multiple texts connected with student
experience to help them understand and make sense of the world (Shannon, 1989). I
incorporated a critical literacy perspective as I looked for issues of representation in the
books read aloud and analyzed the books for evidence that teachers attempted to use
multiple texts that related to the students in their class. Further, during my interviews, I
sought to determine if the teachers in this study appeared to use a critical literacy stance
when selecting books to read aloud. I wondered if they noted the authors or selected
books because of the authors or illustrators. Did they look for issues of culture or
ideology? Did they deliberately select books that they felt would promote critical
thinking and reflection?
I planned to study the content of the books from a variety of perspectives so it was
important to define each viewpoint. Multicultural theory lies under the umbrella of
critical theory and was a part of my approach. Recognition of the value of diversity and
multiculturalism has increased, particularly in schools, in recent years (Banks, 2001;
Mendoza & Reese, 2001). Similarly, multiculturalism in children's literature has
increased in the last decade (Fox & Short, 2003; Nodelman, 2001). The concept of
multiculturalism in literature has been defined as the "proj ect of making education more
inclusive of the perspectives of women, minorities, and non-Western cultures in
recognition of the increasingly diverse character of life in modern Western societies"
(Childers & Hentzi, 1995, p. 196). Nodelman (2000) suggested that the books that fit
within a multicultural category "tend to almost always be about multiculturalism, and to
insist in one way or another on the significance of tolerance and acceptance" (p. 8). As a
result, there are many children who do not see themselves (or see themselves only
superficially or in a didactical manner) in the texts used at school. Those marginalized by
the texts are well aware of the differences between their lives and the ones to which they
are exposed in books read aloud (Fox & Short, 2003; Herrera, 2000; Nodelman, 2000).
Multicultural theorists assert the importance of multicultural literature to develop
cultural awareness and sensitivity. Tway (1989) argued that multicultural literature is
necessary because it helps children understand themselves and others. Igoa (1995) stated
that multicultural literature affords children "a sense of solidarity with all people, making
them transcend cultural attitudes." Moreover, research suggests that diverse children's
literature is important for European American cultures to appreciate cultures different
from their own (Altieri, 1993; Barnes, 1991; Enciso, 1994; Fox & Short, 2003). Adoff
(1986) argued that "if all the parallel cultures and literatures of all the Americas are not
presented with force and conviction, then no part of the so-called American children' s
literature is true; all must fall like some house of cards built on partial foundations" (p.
Enciso (1994) studied students' reactions to culturally different characters in Jerry
Spinelli's (1991) novel Maniac Magee. Fourteen children, including Hyve European
American boys, Hyve European American girls, two African-American boys, one Latina
girl, and one boy of Hmong heritage met with Enciso to discuss the novel, which has
been criticized for being an inaccurate portrayal of racial relationships. She found that by
discussing the book, children were able to construct complex understandings of race and
ethnicity and to appreciate their own diversity as well as the diversity of others. The
children were able to make sense of their place in society. Enciso argued that literature
and frank discussions can promote a deeper understanding of our "cultural and social
identities." The study's limitations include the size, but the results suggest that literature
can change a reader' s understanding of diversity.
Macphee's (1997) study of White first graders concluded that children were able to
empathize with characters of a different race or ethnicity. In addition, Liaw (1995) found
that children who do not see themselves in literature are not as likely to be engaged.
These studies suggest the importance of reading aloud books with a variety of ethnicities
and races (including those ethnicities and races both present and absent from the
classroom). In my study, I examined the books that were read aloud and compared the
demographics of the book characters to the demographics of the students in the
classrooms. I studied whether both similar and different races or ethnicities were present
in the books read aloud.
Along with multicultural theory is the concept of multicultural identity or how we
see ourselves and with whom we identify culturally, socially, and ethnically. Author and
illustrator Juan Felipe Herrera (2000) wrote that "there were many years as a child and
teenager that I felt I had no language at all, no culture, no worth, not even an identity I
could count on...." (p. 56). Teachers, because of their position, can influence children' s
sense of self-worth, value, and identity. "When someone with the authority of a teacher,
say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic
disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing" (Rich, 1986, p. 5). Perry
and Fraser (1993) suggested that teachers, under curriculum pressures, may fail to see or
acknowledge minority student cultures and as a result fail to engage these students in the
learning process. In my interviews with the teachers, I attempted to determine if the
teachers in this study felt pressure from curriculum or other areas and if they chose books
with their students in mind.
Herrera (2000) warned that our world is in an "age of fracture and floating
borderlines where identity, origins, home, family, and national self are fragile, transitory,
and highly endangered" (p. 58). Teachers, like most children's literature authors and
illustrators, are often from the mainstream culture and take for granted certain world
"truths" (Perry & Fraser, 1993). Further, teachers sometimes assume that information in
print is accurate, which is not always the case (Fang, Fu, & Lamme, 2003; Nodelman,
1996). As a result, they may be unaware of misinformation or stereotypes (Lawrence &
Tatum, 1998; Sleeter, 1992). I asked the teachers if they noticed stereotypes and how
important they felt these issues were as they selected books to read aloud.
In a study of pre-service teachers, Velsor and O'Neill (1997) found that individuals
were not initially able to identify themselves as being of a particular culture or ethnicity.
After grounding themselves in a cultural background, they embraced the importance of
heritage and responses. Slonim (1991) argued that ethnicity, which Banks (1988) defined
as a person's "psychological identification" to a certain group, can be difficult to
determine, because psychological factors vary with each individual. Broadly defined,
ethnicity or cultural heritage is considered to be a shared system of values and beliefs
(Holmes, 1995; Slonim, 1991). Through the questionnaires, interviews, and
observations, I attempted to determine with what groups these teachers appeared to
identify and how that identification might have affected their reading aloud practices.
Defining oneself as being of a particular ethnicity is a process involving revising
one's view of oneself as being different or similar to others (Banks, 1988).
Consequently, one's identification can vary greatly over time. Since humans are
individuals with unique backgrounds that blend with their ethnic or cultural background,
assigning certain behaviors or values to a particular ethnicity can promote stereotypes and
inaccurate perceptions (Frisby, 1992).
To compound the issue of changing self-identification, Aboud (1987) found that
children's understandings of ethnic identity were not static until age 6. Davidson et al.
(1993) asserted that children often do not assign themselves a constant ethnic identity
until the teenage years. The researchers suggested that teachers and schools are a
powerful influence in students determining their ethnic identity. Smith and Brookins
(1997) agreed, but cautioned that the construction of ethnic identity in children is a
complicated and poorly understood process and no simple answers are available. Their
studies suggest it is likely that the books read aloud in the school setting can play a part in
this process of ethnic identity formation. As part of my study, I noted whether teachers
took their students' backgrounds or ethnicities into account when selecting books to read
aloud. On the questionnaire, I asked, "How important are your students' backgrounds in
your read-aloud selections?" Later, in the interviews, I again explored the student
composition of the class and the degree to which it impacted the teachers' book
Reader-Response Criticism and Theory
When examining the reasons why teachers selected books to read aloud, an
understanding of reader-response criticism and theory helped frame the study more
clearly. Though I did not focus on reader-response in the classroom setting, it was
appropriate to know what kinds of behaviors elicited responses. As I analyzed the
questionnaire and interview results, I hoped to learn the reasons behind teachers'
selections and perhaps ascertain in some measure the degree to which the teachers valued
their students' responses to the books they read and how their students' responses might
have affected their read-aloud selections.
From the 1930s through the 1960s, an American literary critical movement called
New Criticism influenced profoundly the study of literature, proposing that works of
literature were autonomous and had set meanings or interpretations. The work exists for
its own sake and the reader' s job is to discover the text's primary meaning through close
study. In contrast, reader-oriented approaches put more emphasis on the reader's power
to interpret the text. Reader-response criticism is a term used to denote a number of
different approaches concerned with understanding the ways that readers comprehend
literary works, a shift from the text to the reader' s engagement with the work (Fish,
1980). Interactional theorists agree with New Critics that texts have specific meanings,
but argue that the reader does in fact have a role in the process of comprehending that
meaning (Iser, 1974). Louise Rosenblatt (1938) first coined the term "transactional" in
her theory that the reader plays a significant role in the interpretation of a literary piece.
Rosenblatt states that the reader, the text, and the context or reading event are all vital in
understanding a literary piece (Rosenblatt, 1994). Basing her theory in part on the work
of John Dewey (193 8), Rosenblatt argued that no literary work or reading experience will
be exactly the same for anyone, in short because the reader and the text are involved in an
individualized reading transaction set in a particular and unique social context. The
reader brings all his past experiences into the context of the reading event (which is
where the actual literary work lies). The reader approaches the text from one or a
combination of two stances lying along a continuum: aesthetic and efferent. Rosenblatt
(1994) defined aesthetic reading as the reader being focused solely on the enj oyment and
pleasure of a text. An efferent reading experience occurs when a reader is focused on the
information that he or she will receive from the text. Depending upon the reader's
stance, reading a poem may be a primarily aesthetic experience, while reading a recipe
may be primarily efferent. However, the same text can be approached from either stance
and is often a blend of both stances. The teacher reading aloud adds another element to
the transaction (Teale, 2003). Listening to books read aloud and looking at the
illustrations is usually considered to be an aesthetic experience for children, but can also
be an efferent experience (or a combination). Further, teachers' questioning practices and
read-aloud behaviors can affect their students' responses and experiences both positively
and negatively (Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson, 1999).
Transactional theory suggests that it is easier for students to be absorbed in stories
when the cultures, race, gender, and class in the books they read match their own (Harris,
1999). Transactional theory also implies that authors and their backgrounds are an
important element in the experience (Rosenblatt, 1994). Authentic literature often
represents cultures more accurately and tends to be written by authors who are insiders to
the cultures about which they write than by those outside the culture (Harris, 1997;
Ladson-Billings, 1994; Seto, 2003). Authors who write about other cultures often
produce "tourist" books that emphasize the exotic or surface culture and promote
stereotypes (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987; Rochman, 2003). As a result, children from
different cultures or diverse backgrounds may have difficulty understanding or relating to
books that are written about their cultures by outsiders (Knapp & Shields, 1990; Martinez
& Nash, 1990; Matsuyama, 1983).
Langer (1995) found that a reader' s past experiences can be important in the
understanding of a piece of literature. She identified four nonlinear stances or
"envisionments" which she defined as "text worlds in the mind" that occur during the
reading of texts: "being out and stepping into an envisionment; being in and moving
through an envisionment; stepping out and rethinking what one knows; and stepping out
and objectifying the experience." (pps. 15-19). Prior knowledge is required for the reader
to be able to step in or move through an envisionment and background information is
necessary for the reader to analyze and reflect on the text effectively.
The reading process demands that the reader rely on background knowledge to
develop a scaffold of understanding (Doctorow et al. 1978). Rosenblatt (1994) used the
term "selective attention" to describe the choices that readers make when they are
engaged in a reading event. These choices vary with the individual and are based in part
on "social and cultural contextual differences" (Karolides, 1997, p. 13). Cultural
experiences and background outline a reader' s understanding, making it possible for the
reading aloud of a single text to be a rich experience for one student and a meaningless
one for another. If prior knowledge is not sufficient or scaffolded properly, then
students' understandings are incomplete (Harris, 1999; Langer, 1995).
Studies of reading comprehension support this assertion. Reynolds et al. (1982)
found that Black and White students interpreted text passages differently, depending
upon their cultural backgrounds. The researchers' results suggest that cultural biases in
text may create comprehension struggles for students, particularly minority students.
Further, books that do not match students' backgrounds may fail to elicit engagement and
envisionment building with the text during a read-aloud experience (Greene, 1993;
Langer, 1995; May, 1995; Nodelman, 1996). Because kindergarten classrooms may have
students who come from diverse backgrounds and with diverse experiences, my study
examined the match between the books the teacher selected to read aloud and their
students' social class, gender, and ethnicity.
Research on Response to Literature
Although many children are in preschool and day care settings, kindergarten can be
their first encounter with real academic demands and an increasingly difficult curriculum
(West et al. 2000). The context of "classroom life is complex," with teachers and
students working together to create the structure (McGill-Franzen & Lanford, 1994,
p.264). In this study, I interviewed the teachers to determine how they dealt with the
complexity through their read-aloud selections and if their students' responses affected
their choices. For example, one question I asked was what books they read aloud on the
first day of school (often a stressful day for new kindergartners and their families).
Janet Hickman (1979) was one of the first researchers to examine how children
respond to literature in a classroom setting. Her ethnographic study examined how
children responded in three mixed-grade primary classrooms. Hickman found that
children refer back to books read aloud long after the actual event, sometimes through
artwork or discussions. Through her findings, she developed a number of student
response categories, summarized by Martinez and Roser (1991):
listening behaviors such as applause or j oining in refrains
contact with books such as browsing
acting on impulse to share by reading together or sharing discoveries
oral responses such as retelling or freely commenting on stories, actions, and
making things like pictures or games, and
writing about literature or using literary models in one's writing (p. 646).
Similarly, in a study of children's responses to literature, Applebee (1978) found
that young children were caught up in the action of the stories they heard and usually
responded by retelling the story in great detail. During my interviews and observations, I
tried to determine if the teachers fostered or encouraged these types of responses from
Examining how children become knowledgeable about children's literature through
their experiences, McGill-Franzen and Lanford (1994) conducted a study that suggests
that children' s understanding of text may in fact be closely connected to their experience
with literary genres and the read-aloud practices of teachers. In a study of three
preschool children, they found that one child' s lack of exposure to a variety of literary
genres limited his understanding of literature. A second child was in a classroom where
the teacher read different genres but did not allow the students to talk during the event
and did not allow later access to the books. The third child was exposed to more genres
and encouraged to discuss, revisit, and interpret the literature. This last child was able to
respond and explore texts in a more sophisticated manner than the other two children,
both verbally and when writing. In another study of young children, Elster (1994) found
that children were able to retell stories accurately after they listened to books read aloud.
Teacher-researcher Gallas (1997) studied an African-American second-grade male
in her class who refused to listen to stories during the daily read-aloud time. From what
she could determine, the child had no prior reading experiences before school and she
learned that he did not attend kindergarten. He began second grade determined to learn
to read and diligently worked during the reading time. Gallas found that the child did not
see a purpose for the story time and did not understand that the time was meant to be
pleasurable. Instead, the child defined reading as simply word mastery, a belief Gallas
attributed to the fact that he had come from a background where reading was functional
and not done for enj oyment. Gallas determined that children bring "different social and
cultural understandings of print to school," a finding supported by other theorists and
researchers, and that reading aloud stories is mostly a mainstream cultural practice (Bus,
2003; Heath, 1983; Taylor, 1983). Her study is important in that she focused on a child
who was not from the mainstream culture. She used her experience to adjust her teaching
strategies and classroom to help her students achieve a "deep, decontextualized, and
aesthetic appreciation and understanding of texts" (Gallas, 1997, p. 253). In my
interviews with the teachers, I tried to determine if they adjusted their read-aloud events
to meet the needs of their mostly minority populations of students.
Research on reading aloud suggests a connection between listening and responding
to books and learning to read (Bus et al. 1995). In a yearlong study of the read-aloud
program in New York second-grade classrooms, Cohen (1968) found that reading aloud
was critical in learning to read. Using an experimental control design, Cohen asked the
teachers in the experimental groups to read aloud and do some type of story retelling
every day. At the end of the year, the experimental groups had higher reading
vocabularies and comprehension skills than the control groups. The researchers
determined that reading aloud and retelling is important in improving reading skills and
language. In 1974, Cullinan et al. replicated the study with kindergarten students and
found similar results. In my study, I examined the questionnaire and interview responses
for evidence that the teachers believed reading aloud was connected to learning to read
and if they felt that retelling was an important event.
In a more recent study, Morrow (1998) studied four-year-olds' responses to story
readings in low-income urban day care centers. Nearly 75% of the children came from
single parent homes with a maximum annual family income of $10,000. Around 40% of
the children belonged to minority groups and 20% had been abused or neglected,
according to the state' s Department of Youth and Family Services. One hundred and ten
children were randomly selected for two experimental groups and one control group. In
one experimental group, the books were read aloud twice. In the other experimental
group, the books were read aloud once. The children in the control group were not read
aloud books. Seventy-nine children remained in the study until the end. Morrow found
that the story readings increased the children's verbal responses and the complexity of
their responses. As in other studies, Morrow found that children commented on meaning,
not just technical aspects of the story (Roser & Martinez, 1985; Sulzby, 1985). She also
noted that when books were read aloud twice, the children responded in a more complex
manner. Morrow' s study suggests that reading to children can increase the quality of
responses of children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Further, providing
discussions which focus on interpretation may increase children's interest in the reading
event and their comments about meaning. When analyzing the books logs and
questionnaires, I examined whether the teachers appeared to read aloud books more than
once and if they encouraged responses.
Similarly, Martinez and Roser (1985) found that repeated readings increased young
children's ability to comprehend and discuss more deeply various aspects of a picture
book. Their study was conducted in homes and preschools of four children where six
stories were read aloud a total of three times. The researchers found that the children
tended to ask more questions with unfamiliar stories and made more comments when
listening to unfamiliar stories. Their results showed that the focus changed from story
characters to story details as the story became more familiar and that the children
increased the range of responses and the number of responses as they heard the initially
unfamiliar stories repeated. Although the study is small, it supports the practice of
reading aloud a story more than once as a way to increase the complexity of children' s
responses and to deepen their understanding of the story.
In a study of 60 children in kindergarten, second, and fourth grades, Lehr (1988)
reported that children were able to respond and reflect on the themes of books they heard,
especially if they had had a great deal of prior experience with literature. The study was
conducted in a middle-class suburb of a large metropolitan Midwestern city and the
participants were given the Revised Huck Literature Inventory to determine their
exposure to literature across several genres. The children were divided into two groups
(those with high exposure to literature and those with low exposure). Six books from two
genres, realistic fiction and folk tales, were selected for each grade level and read aloud
to the children. After the read-aloud session, the children were asked to state what they
thought the story was about. Lehr scored all statements with the help of an independent
rater, obtaining a reliability rate of 92.5%. Lehr found that having the books available
when asking the children about the theme increased the quality of the responses, because
they could look back through the books. Those children who were rated as having a high
exposure to children' s literature generated a higher level of thematic awareness than
those children who were ranked as having a low exposure to children's literature. The
study is limited in that it focuses on middle-class students and does not address race,
ethnicity, or gender, but it provides interesting data and supports the theory that providing
opportunities for children to listen to books read aloud in the classroom can affect their
developing sense of theme. Peterson and Eeds (1990) found that although students were
read to often and exposed to many types of children' s literature, they were not given the
opportunity to explore their understanding in more critical or profound ways.
Studies of literature response have shown that the reader' s culture influences
response. Focusing on older students, Beach (1997) found that students, particularly
those from the mainstream culture, resisted literature that threatened their beliefs and
values. The students were uncomfortable with literature that dealt with such issues as
homelessness and homosexuality or that questioned traditional practices.
The teacher plays a large role in facilitating children's responses to literature
(Battle, 1993; Martinez & Teale, 1993; Short & Armstrong, 1993; Short et al. 1996;
Wood et al. 1976). Wood et al. (1976) found that adults are important in scaffolding
young children's responses and interactions to read-aloud events. Likewise, Roser and
Martinez (1985) studied the roles that adults play in preschoolers' responses to literature
and found that when adults did not respond, children's interactions were limited. Further,
Peters (1993) observed that the interaction between the text, the teacher, and the children
during read-aloud sessions actually facilitated literacy development. Short et al. (1996),
looked at teacher talk within literature circles and found that the teacher' s talk and social
interactions influenced children's discussions in a positive manner.
In a study of sixth-graders, Guice (1995) found that the students' responses were
less when the teacher did not allow children to talk with each other about the books. She
observed that despite this, students often continued to discuss the books at other times.
Guice concluded that teachers should honor student-initiated talk, a conclusion supported
by others (Lin, 1995; Sipe, 1997).
Sipe (1997) observed that children in first and second grades increased their
understandings through conversations and discussions. Sipe (1997) found that the
students engaged in five types of responses, and. that analytical was their primary
response. Sipe cautions that requiring children to wait to respond until the end of the
story often causes children to forget or to lose their response (p. 18). Cox and Many
(1992) found that student responses became increasingly more complex as they continued
to engage in discussion.
In a study of a multi-aged primary classroom, Copenhaver (1998) found that
teacher questioning during read-alouds was primarily efferent in nature, with mostly
close-ended questions, such as listing the names of characters or reviewing facts learned.
Copenhaver defined a read-aloud strategy she termed "fill-in-the-blank," which involved
the teacher reading aloud part of a passage and pausing to allow the children to verbally
respond with words that would fit. Here, unlike the other questioning events, where
students were expected to raise their hands, students were encouraged to call out answers.
Copenhaver found this strategy confusing for some students who already were unsure
about the procedures for traditional school questioning events and concluded that this
practice made it difficult for these children to participate in the classroom talk.
In similar studies of teachers eliciting responses, Cianciolo (1995) found that
teacher questioning is an effective method to promote critical aesthetic response. By
contrast, Blake (1995) suggested that teachers avoid asking questions in order to support
students' personal connections and avoid steering the students to a predetermined
Higher quality responses appear to affect test scores in a positive manner as well.
Dickinson and Smith (1994) observed that children who were engaged in extended
discussions after the text was read showed higher gains when measured against children
who were encouraged to respond only to factual detail and produce portions of the text in
Peterman (1988) stated that teachers who received training could enhance
children's literacy learning. She found that procedures that emphasized connections
between the children's experience and the story characters furthered understanding. She
also noted that focusing on story grammar was an effective way to increase
comprehension. Other researchers have done similar interventions with varying degrees
of success (Dale et al. 1996;Whitehurst et al. 1994)
Because student response to reading can impact teachers' book selections, I
examined the questionnaire and interview responses to determine the teachers'
approaches to eliciting responses and what kinds of responses they appeared to value. On
the questionnaire, I asked what factors the teachers felt were most important to consider
when selecting the books they read aloud. During the interviews with the focus teachers,
I asked if they encouraged talk as a way for their students to create meaning during the
read-aloud event (Bandura, 1986). As I observed the read-aloud sessions, I looked for
evidence to corroborate their statements.
Teachers Conducting Read-Alouds
In my study, I did not do extensive observations of the teachers conducting read-
alouds. However, the teacher questionnaire and interviews contained questions about the
teachers' read-aloud practices and I observed five teachers to confirm and corroborate the
results of the self-reports and personal interviews. As such, it was necessary to be aware
of the research on teachers and read-aloud sessions and how these sessions impact
The cultural practice of reading aloud is widely accepted as a powerful and
valuable part of a child's life and literacy growth (Bus et al. 1995; Short et al. 1996). A
primarily White, middle-class American tradition, reading aloud is often considered a
method of socializing children to school culture and rules (Anderson et al. 2003; Heath,
1983). Most reading aloud is narrative form, which according to Huck (1992) is a
"universal way of thinking" and important for children to experience (p. 4). Moffet
(1983) speculated that children use narrative to order their thinking and problem solving
processes and reading aloud is an important way to learn narrative.
A large number of research studies have supported reading aloud to children as a
way to effectively increase their emergent literacy (Battle, 1993; 1986; Durkin, 1978;
Galda & Cullinan, 1991;Wells, 1986). Reading aloud to children increases their
familiarity with print conventions and their meta-linguistic awareness about print (Clay,
1979; Doake, 1981; Galda & Cullinan, 1991; Taylor, 1983; Schickendanz, 1986).
Research on reading aloud in the classroom setting also suggests a connection between
being read aloud to and school achievement (Teale & Martinez, 1989). Still other
researchers have found that children's literature experiences in the classroom increased
interest in reading and achievement, and had a positive correlation to writing ability
(Galda & Cullinan, 1991; Lancia, 1997).
Cochran-Smith (1984) described reading aloud in the classroom as a mutually
negotiated event of comments and interactions between the teacher, the children, the
illustrations, and the text. Her study suggests that the teacher acts as a mediator when
reading aloud books to children defining vocabulary and concepts when necessary and
assisting children in their understanding of the book.
Martinez and Teale (1993) studied the storybook reading styles of six kindergarten
teachers and found that each had a distinctive reading style that varied somewhat in the
type of teacher talk that occurred during the reading as well as the type of information
that the teacher and student talked about and the instructional strategies used by the
Studies of reading aloud have shown that the practice has numerous benefits.
Reading aloud to children deepens their personal responses, fosters their meaning-making
strategies; and encourages critical thinking and collaboration (Butler, 1975; Chomsky,
1972; May, 1995; Roser & Martinez, 1985; Sipe, 1996; Wells, 1986). Reading aloud
fosters children' s enj oyment of books while nurturing their language development and
comprehension (Anderson et al., 1985). Read-alouds allow children to hear the cadences
of written language and to discover how print functions as they acquire real-world
knowledge (Clay, 1985). Moreover, read-alouds support literary development children
understand story conventions such as "once upon a time" and discover literary motifs.
They become acquainted with literary characters such as the "trickster" or the "bad wolf'
and the "rule of three" in folk tales (Huck, 1992). During read-alouds, children think in
response to the literature, and when discussion is part of the experience, they learn how to
engage in literary discussions (Morrow, 1983).
Several researchers have noted that the manner in which a teacher approaches
literature and read-aloud events may have a great deal of influence on the responses of
children to literature (Blake, 1995; Cianciolo, 1995; Cox, 1997; Sipe, 1997). Huck
(1992) was one of the first researchers to propose that a teacher' s enthusiasm was an
important factor for promoting a love of reading. Other researchers have observed that
how teachers teach literature impacts student responses (Galda, 1988; Hickman, 1981).
Despite the evidence showing the importance of reading aloud, studies vary on the
amount. Langer et al. (1990) analyzed the National Assessment of Educational Progress
database and found that 57% of fourth-grade teachers read aloud daily. In a study of pre-
kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms, Morrow (1983) reported that teachers read 12
stories over the course of four weeks.
In another study, Hoffman et al. (1993) analyzed answers on questionnaires from
537 classrooms across the United States and found that 74% of teachers read aloud to
their students daily. In kindergarten, 84% of teachers responded that they read aloud to
their students at least once each day; 64% of fifth grade teachers said they read aloud
every day. One question required teachers to list a book they read aloud. Studying the
books listed, the researchers found that no multicultural author or title appeared on the
list of read-alouds. Some of the most common books were Martin and Carle' s (1967)
Brown bear, Brown Bear and Sendak' s (1963) Where the Wild Things are, books
considered to be well-written and illustrated, but published nearly 30 years earlier. The
researchers found that the typical read-aloud session included a text unrelated to a unit of
study, was usually less than 20 minutes long and contained a discussion that took less
than five minutes. Frequently, no response activity followed the read-aloud.
In a study of preschool teachers' reading aloud programs, Stone and Twardosz
(2001) interviewed 21 teachers in childcare centers throughout a medium-sized
southeastern United States city. The study is limited in that the childcare directors chose
to participate and the participants used self-reports. Still, the findings are interesting. All
teachers reported reading aloud at least once daily and more than half of the teachers said
they read aloud two or three times each day. The teachers noted that they took into
account their children's interests when selecting read-alouds, often using a book to teach
a skill or character trait. Teachers in their study reported reading to get children to sit
quietly and acknowledged that they selected books on the basis of length or complexity.
They chose shorter books when time or children's behavior were issues. One concern the
researchers noted was that the teachers primarily read narrative picture books and did not
appear to read other genres aloud, thereby limiting the children's exposure to other types
of literature. They noted that some children may not be engaged by narrative and might
not enj oy read-aloud sessions if not exposed to other kinds of books, a concern noted by
others (Pellegrini et al. 1990). Poole (1987) found that primary teachers felt that the
greatest value of reading stories aloud lay in improving written and spoken English,
emphasizing skill over the social and cultural experience. The teachers in Poole's survey
also stated that they used reading aloud as a means of calming students down and keeping
them quiet at the end of the day, when the children were tired.
I examined the genres that the teachers reported reading aloud to determine if their
choices were primarily narrative as previous studies have found (Pellegrini et al. 1990).
I also analyzed their responses as to why they read aloud and compared their answers to
the answers given by teachers who completed Poole's survey (Poole, 1987).
Teachers as Readers
As I conducted the interviews and analyzed the questionnaire responses, I looked to
see if the participants appeared to be "readers" and if they were familiar with children' s
literature. Research has suggested a connection between familiarity with children's
literature and a teacher' s personal reading, whether that reading is of children' s literature,
adult literature, or professional literature. Of particular concern, some research has
suggested that alliterate teachers or those who can, but don't read in their personal time,
might impact their students in a negative fashion (Mangieri & Corboy, 1981; Many et al.
1998; Thompson & Meeks, 1990; Zancanella, 1991). Zancanella (1991) interviewed five
junior high school teachers in-depth and found their "personal literary lives" contributed
in a positive way to their teaching of literature. Thompson and Meeks (1990) surveyed
50 teachers. Thirty of the teachers taught in an inner city elementary school and 20 were
completing graduate degrees in reading or library science. They found that the maj ority
of respondents were not familiar with multiethnic literature, with the exception of a few
African-American titles. Many et al. (1998) studied pre-service teachers and found that
their perceptions of themselves as readers influenced their views on literature-based
instruction. Those who considered themselves avid readers placed a higher value on
literature-based instruction than those who did not consider themselves avid. Other
researchers posit that elementary teachers' perceptions of their personal and professional
reading habits are important factors in how they learn about children's literature and why
they read it (Small, 2000).
Because teachers who are readers themselves may recognize the importance of
recreational reading and matching students' interests with books, I interviewed the
teachers about their reading habits. I wondered if they appeared to see a connection
between their personal reading habits and how they approached reading aloud to their
Children' s literature is a vital part of children' s cognitive, psychological, and social
development; literature has the ability to both entertain and to help children develop their
intellect and emotion (Bettelheim, 1975, p. 5). Nodelman (2000) argued that children's
literature is a "teaching tool" whose goal is to make its readers different in some way, an
assertion supported by others (Greene, 1988; Miller, 1997).
Researchers and educators recognize the power of children' s literature to impact
children' s understanding of their identities and roles as well as their perceptions of
society and culture in general. Nodelman (2000) placed great emphasis on the power of
literature, stating, "children's literature has played an important part in making us who
we are" (p. 16). "Everything we read...constructs us and makes us who we are, by
presenting our images of ourselves as girls and women, as boys and men" (Fox, 1993,
p. 85). These images are not always accurate, however (Ramirez & Ramirez, 1994; Seto,
2003). People of varying ethnicities continue to suffer from misperceptions and
stereotypes in literature for children, despite a concerted effort on the behalf of publishers
in recent years to utilize people of different ethnicities in illustrations and photographs
(Short & Fox, 2003). Studies have found that overwhelmingly, particularly in textbooks,
characters portrayed as diverse are often middle-class characters with darker skin shades
possessing the attitudes and beliefs of the white middle-class (Darigan et al. 2002).
As I analyzed the children's literature from the logs kept by teachers, I examined
the accuracy of the books if they were nonfiction and for evidence of diversity in the
characters as they appeared in the text and illustrations. I then compared the race and
class of the story characters in the books to the composition of the classrooms.
Semiotic Theory and Picture Book Illustrations
Studying the signs and meanings in picture books illustrations is a part of content
analyses in children's literature (Cianciolo, 1976; Lewis, 2001; Nodelman, 2000).
Semiotics, the study of signs and their meaning, is based on the work of philosopher
Charles Sanders Pierce, who defined three types of signs based on the relationship
between the sign and the thing it signifies. The "symbol" is an arbitrary sign based on
cultural conventions; for example, the representation of a person wearing a skirt that
appears on many women's restroom doors. The "icon" is a sign based on similar
features, such as an object and a photograph of that object. Computer icons are probably
the most familiar ones to contemporary children. The "index has a causal relationship,
such as the relationship between a thermometer reading and the temperature (Eco, 1979).
Saussure (trans. Harris, 1983) moved the understanding of signs to the written language
and believed that his theory could explain how writing communicates meaning through
word choice and style. In the 1960s, Roland Barthes (1967) used the principles of
semiotics in his analysis of cultural and social events and concepts. Understanding the
pictures in children's books requires that children have a developed schemata or pre-
existing understandings that enable them to translate what they see as they develop a
theory of what the world is like (Bettelheim, 1975; Lewis, 2001; Nodelman, 1996; Smith,
1975). For example, children must have a schema for "house" in order to understand that
a square topped with a triangle represents a house. According to Nodelman (1996),
"pictures don't convey much meaning until we know the language in which they are
expressed" (p. 217). Because cultures represent things in different ways and with
different connotation and assumptions, children have to know enough about their culture
in order to know how pictures represent it (Crawford & Hade, 2000; Nodelman, 1988).
Each new experience or event in children's lives is either folded into the existing theory
or the theory is modified to make sense of the experience (Lindfors, 1987).
Theorists argue that picture books are complex and in fact unintentionally imply
sophisticated readers, who (although never having been exposed to these things) are able
to comprehend obj ects "floating" against solid backgrounds, abstract perspectives, or
stylized drawings of things they have never seen before (Cianciolo, 1976; Nodelman,
1988). For example, infant books often show familiar objects "floating" on a colored
background. Nodelman (2000) stated "interpreting different kinds of pictures at an early
age doesn't mean that understanding pictures is easy" (p. 217). Rather, he suggested that
this ability is a result of "their [children' s] great flexibility and as great an
accomplishment as learning to use spoken language, a skill that children also
miraculously teach themselves" (p. 217). Goldstone (1999) agreed, adding that picture
books have become more complex as they change to reflect our changing culture.
Further, Nodelman (1988) suggested that teachers might limit their young students'
learning because they underestimate the children's ability to understand art in picture
books (p. 41).
Crawford and Hade (2000) studied wordless picture books from a semiotic
perspective, looking at the visual elements as signs interpreted by three children, aged
four, five, and eight. Two of the children attended a private school, suggesting a higher
social class level. All three children were from homes where they were read to often.
The race or ethnicity of the children is not mentioned. The researchers found that the
children were quite competent in making sense of the connections and relationships
among the illustrations, frequently referring to other books with which they were
familiar. The children' s tellingg" of the wordless books suggested that they understood
how stories work and how books function. The study limitations include its small size,
but the findings indicate that young children are able to interact with wordless picture
books in complex and multi-dimensional ways and suggest the potential of wordless
picture books for rich engagement with both readers and emergent readers. More
research with children from diverse backgrounds is needed to study the ways in which
children who are from different social class and literacy backgrounds respond to wordless
Because children rely heavily on illustrations for meaning and understanding, I
studied the illustrations in the books read aloud in the context of the classrooms in which
they were read (Cianciolo, 1976; Goldstone, 1999; Sebesta, 2001). Were there cultural
symbols or icons with which the children might or might not be familiar? Was there
evidence of socioeconomic class? Did there appear to be stereotypical images in the
illustrations? Illustrations should support response, and children relate to illustrations that
match their experiences or their lives (Langer, 1995; Fox & Short, 2003; Ramirez &
Ramirez, 1994). Did these illustrations appear to relate to the children in the classrooms
in which the books are read?
Literary Criticism and Analysis in Genres and Illustrations
Literary criticism and analysis go hand-in-hand with content analysis in the study
of children' s literature and therefore needed to be mentioned when setting up the
foundation for my study. In this study, I incorporated aspects of literary criticism and
analysis as I examined the genres and illustrations in the books read aloud.
Literary genres are "sets of conventions and expectations" knowing or believing
we understand what kind of book we are reading causes us to make assumptions and take
note of certain actions (Culler, 1997, p. 97). In a study of genre and young children,
Shine and Roser (1999) conducted a study of the genre-related responses of nine four-
and five-year-olds from a low-income community school in central Texas. Five of the
children were girls and four were boys. Five children were Hispanic American, two were
European American, one was African-American, and one was Asian-American. Shine
and Roser analyzed the preschoolers' responses to ten picture books from four genres
including informational, fantasy, poetry, and realistic fiction. They elected not to use
books from the traditional literature genre to avoid the possibility of the children having
heard the story before. Several children were often absent, but at least five of the nine
children listened to a book read aloud each day for four weeks. The books were read
aloud twice to encourage more in-depth responses to the books. The researchers found
that the children were able to take different stances when responding to different genres,
such as noting factual information from the informational books and responding with
word play to the poetry. They noted that the children were most interested in characters
and stories presented in a narrative fashion and typically responded with personal
associations, findings supported by other researchers (Bruner, 1986; Heath, 1983). This
study is limited in that only a small group of children were involved and just 10 books
were used, but the findings contribute to the idea that young children are able to engage
in interpretation, respond appropriately to a variety of genre, and may prefer narrative. In
fact, teachers tend to focus on narrative, often in a fictional format, rather than
information books or other genres (Short et al. 1996). Since different genres generate
different responses and transmit different kinds of knowledge, genre relates to teachers'
purposes for reading aloud and children' s enj oyment of the reading aloud experience. I
noted the genres that the teachers read aloud in this study to determine if there were
patterns in the genres selected. Did the teachers read books from one genre more
frequently than other genres? Were their genre selections diverse?
Most literary analyses deal with the meaning as it lies within the text and
illustrations of a book, rather than with the reader (Beckett, 1997). However, classroom
use of books and instructional readers have typically not been examined except through
reader response theory (Beach, 1997; Teale, 2003). Despite this focus on the text, literary
analysis has been central to the development of children' s literature theory (Beckett,
1997). In a classic literary analysis combining semiotic analysis, or analysis of signs and
their meanings, reader response theory, and narrative theory, Nodelman (1988) explored
how the picture book narrative is created through the blending of the text and
illustrations, finding that a great deal of the story lies in the illustrations. In my study of
the books read aloud, I examined how the illustrations and text worked together to create
explicit and implicit messages about society, culture, behavior, or other elements that
might be transmitted to children during read-alouds.
Content Analyses of Children's Literature
As noted previously, books are a powerful influence in the lives of children and
have the potential to foster attitudes, empathy, and affect self-perception (Herrera, 2000;
Igoa, 1995; Nodelman, 2000; Tway, 1989). McElhoe (1999) suggested that young
children are "socialized...they develop a set of values and attitudes" through the text and
illustrations in books (p. 249). According to Cullingford (1998), children use books to
interpret the world in which they live "through exploring the fantasies as well as living
through the everyday" (p. 78). However, too simple or misleading books can contribute
to narrow views or prejudices (Lowery, 2000; May, 1995). Kindergartners rely heavily
on books for their impressions of the outside world as well as of themselves (Bloom &
Katz, 1997). In addition, research has shown that messages in books may shape
children's behaviors and attitudes (Bandura, 1977; Darigan, 1991). Darigan (1991) found
that the books that teachers read aloud had an effect on their student' s attitudes about
African-Americans. Further, the books that teachers read aloud are often the books that
children choose to read or look at later (Short et al. 1996; van Kleeck, 2003).
Social learning theory asserts that models, including those transmitted through
books, can influence children's behaviors (Bandura, 1977; Kramer & Radey, 1997).
Researchers Kramer and Radey (1997) found that children who were read books with
negative sibling interactions were more likely to behave in undesirable ways with their
siblings. In a similar study, Bhavnagri and Samuels (1996) found that quality literature
fostered positive peer relationships among preschoolers.
Content analyses allow for the close examination of those books which adults, in
this case teachers, allow children to access. In this study, I analyzed the content of the
books that kindergarten teachers read aloud to determine what values, attitudes, and
impressions might be transmitted through the read-aloud sessions.
Novels were the basis of the first landmark critical content analyses conducted.
Taxel (1983) studied 32 children's novels about the American Revolution published
between 1899 and 1976. He analyzed the structure of the novels using Levi-Strauss'
(1967) procedure of coding the characters by binary opposition such as good characters
and bad characters. To examine the actions of the characters, Taxel used a strategy
developed by Wright (1975) to reduce the stories to a descriptive set of "functions."
Taxel found that most of the books published before and during World War II presented a
simplistic, patriotic, and conservative perspective of the Revolution, omitting the
controversy of who would rule in America as well as the concerns of the Black colonists.
Of the 32 novels he analyzed, just one, published during the Vietnam War era, contained
a Black protagonist and dealt with issues of economics and justice. Twenty-nine of the
novels contained the "rite of passage" concept as a primary theme. Looking at the novels
relative to their publication date, Taxel connected America's social class changes,
including the changes in family relationships, and the increased focus on individuality to
the historical changes occurring during the times that the books were published. For
example, novels published in the 1960s and 70s (a time when parental authority began to
break down) contained father figures who were weak, whereas novels published earlier
contained strong and wise father figures. Taxel's study is important because he studied
the novels' content and form while at the same time looking at how the two structures
melded with the current state of society.
In another landmark study, Sims Bishop (1983) examined realistic fiction about
African-Americans published between 1965 and 1979. From her findings, Sims Bishop
developed four maj or categories of books initially regarding African-Americans but
which have expanded to include all cultural groups:
books with a social conscience perspective or books written to promote the
understanding of micro-cultural groups;
melting pot books, or books that suggest that all Americans share the same
middle-class values and lifestyles;
culturally conscious books, which contain universal messages of basic themes
including friendship, heritage, growing up, family relationships, equality and
justice along with
image-maker books written by authors with other ethnic or cultural backgrounds
attempting to create more accurate images of blacks or other ethnic or cultural
groups (Sims Bishop, 1982, p. 46).
Sims Bishop's categories form the foundation for numerous studies of cultural diversity.
In this study, l used Sims Bishop's categories as a resource when sorting the books into
Lowery (1999) used thematic content analysis and a critical sociology of literature
theoretical framework to analyze seventeen children's novels dealing with immigration
experiences. She studied how issues of race and class played a part in these
representations across three immigrant periods in the United States. Lowery found the
image of immigrants to be primarily negative and immigrants were portrayed as "others,"
particularly immigrants of the non-dominant group. In addition, race and class issues of
the periods were found to influence the United States' immigration policies and how
Americans received immigrants into the country throughout our history. Lowery
concluded that the novels were not sufficient to be used alone as historical texts and
would need to be used in conjunction with other texts which showed a more positive, less
stereotypical view of immigrants (Lowery, 2000).
Other studies have also shown a tendency to simplify and generalize cultures and
ethnicities. Noll (1995) studied 27 books dealing with American Indians. She found that
the concept of "insider" and "outsider" status was quite complicated; an American Indian
author or illustrator would not be an "insider" to all the cultures within the larger group,
because, for example, Western peoples are quite different from those in the Southeast.
She noted that even within same tribes, insiders' cultural understandings vary depending
upon their experience. Noll listed as an example the Navajo illustrator Baje Whitethome,
whose work is criticized by some fellow Navajos as being inaccurate (p. 31). However,
the work is accurate from Whitethome's perspective, just not from the critics'
perspectives (Noll, 1995). She argued that authors and illustrators do not have to be
insiders to the indigenous people they are portraying if they take care to leamn about that
culture, pointing out that several books written by White authors are authentic depictions
of lifestyle and relationships. Noll mentioned Paul Goble as a storyteller who has
captured the essence of American Indian peoples in South Dakota through intensive
research and a deep appreciation of the culture.
In her analysis, Noll found that many books depicting American Indian cultures
were stereotypical and misleading, a finding echoed by other researchers (Stott, 1996).
She mentioned the picture book Ten little rabbits by Grossman and Long (1991) as one
that, with its depiction of rabbits dressed as Indians with blankets and feathers, belittles
the many cultures and perpetuates the stereotype that all American Indians look the same.
Going further, Seale (2001) noted that award-winning books such as Jeffers' (1991)
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, an artistic portrayal of Chief Seattle' s famous speech,
contained inaccuracies in both the text and the illustrations. She observed that horses
were pictured in eight of the 16 illustrations, despite the fact that Chief Seattle was from
the Northwest coast culture, which did not use horses.
Although researchers argue that authors and illustrators, teachers, parents, and
publishers all have the responsibility to make sure that the messages expressed through
books about American Indians are accurate and authentic portrayals of the various
peoples, this is not an easy task (Noll, 2003; Reese, 1996).
In a study of books about farms and rural life, Kruse (2001) found that farmers
were often portrayed as solitary, foolish, or old-fashioned. While she did note some
positive images, she asserts that "a single book is unlikely to entrench limiting
stereotypes in a child' s mind, but the cumulative effect of negative or inaccurate images
cannot be salutary" (p. 26). Kruse suggests that adults need to incorporate modern,
nonfiction books that show a variety of farmers in respectful and accurate situations.
The tendency to simplify cultures and ethnicities crosses genres and is present in
nonfiction or informational books as well as fictional books. In a study of the
informational picture book, Rice is Life Lamme and Fu (2001) found that the author, an
"outsider" to the culture, "oversimplifies the process of rice growing" and depicts the
laborers without a hint of the hardship involved in working in a rice Hield (p. 20). Lamme
and Fu suggest that teachers and students learn strategies for critically reading
informational and non-fiction books in order to "approach nonfiction literature with an
eye towards social justice, class, and cultural authenticity" (p. 20).
The depiction of older people in picture books is also an area of concern,
particularly for young children. Research suggests children form negative perceptions of
older people at an early age (Jantz et al. 1976). Studies of children's literature have
shown that older adults are often absent from literature or portrayed in a negative light
(McElhoe, 1999; Janelli, 1988). Dellmann-Jenkins and Yan (1997) analyzed the images
of older adult characters in eleven Caldecott Medal winners or honor books from 1972
through 1995. The researchers used the Jantz et al. (1976) semantic differential section
of the "Children' s Attitudes toward the Elderly" scale to develop 36 elements for content
analysis. Their measurement criteria were tested by two outside instructors who
independently analyzed and coded the illustrations of half of the books, with an inter-
rater reliability of 91% to 97%. Dellman-Jenkins and Yan' s analysis indicated that books
published after 1984 had older adult characters frequently portrayed as warm and caring,
while those published before 1984 contained many characters described as lonely or
unhappy. All 11 books showed older adults as healthy and clean. Significant findings
included that in eight of the books, older men were depicted as "active," while older
women were depicted as "active" in only six books. Furthermore, older women were
portrayed as "frightened" in four of the books, while none of the men were. Overall, they
found that 70% of the books portrayed older people in a positive light, a fact they
attributed to the sensitivity of judges who select the Caldecott winners. However, they
expressed concern that just 12% of all Caldecott winners from 1972 through 1995
depicted older people, arguing that as the our aging adult population increases, so does
the need for more older people to be presented in positive ways. The study limitations
include the fact that only 11 books were analyzed and all were award winners. Young
children are exposed to a great many books that do not receive awards; studies need to be
done of those books as well. As I analyzed the content of the books read aloud, I studied
the text and illustrations for evidence of older characters and the manner in which they
Gender is a concept frequently studied in children's literature and pertinent because
research suggests that preschoolers categorize themselves according to sex more
frequently than by race and are likely to have developed stereotypical notions of gender
(McGraw et al. 1989; Ramsey, 1990). In a content analysis of award-winning picture
books, Weitzmann et al. (1971) found that males were shown more often in Caldecott
Medal books published between the years of 1966 through 1971. Allen et al. (1993)
conducted a comparison study of 13 Caldecott winners published between 1938 and 1940
and between 1986 and 1988. Their study found that women were again depicted less
often than men. One surprising and significant finding was the presence of traditional
role stereotyping in the more recently published books. Kolbe and LaVoie (1981)
analyzed Caldecott winners published from 1979 to 1982 and noted that female
characters were more likely to be depicted doing traditional activities such as cleaning
house. They also discovered that books authored by females were as stereotypical as
those authored by males.
Engel (1981) counted female characters of Caldecott Medal and Honor books
published between 1976 and 1980 and found that only 26% of the characters were
female. In addition, Engel noted that the male roles were closer to reality than the female
roles in the books.
In a similar study, Crabb and Bielawski (1994) studied gender differences in
Caldecott award-winning literature and found that females engaged in household-related
activities and males engaged in activities involving construction or building perpetuated
stereotypical gender roles. Tognoli et al. (1994) also found that men were more likely to
be depicted outdoors, while women were depicted in the home or doing family-related
These studies show an interesting pattern of award-winning children's books to be
stereotypical with regard to gender and age. Certainly these studies are limited in that
they analyze only Caldecott winners. More study needs to be done on books that are
awarded other literary awards as well as those books that do not win awards or accolades
(Poarch & Monk-Turner, 2001). Studies are needed that examine these factors in the
books that teachers actually read aloud in their classrooms.
In a recent study, Poarch and Monk-Turner (2001) studied the gender difference in
the illustrations in 22 non-award winning books defined as "easy readers" and published
between 1963 and 1995, with most being published after 1986. They selected authors
who wrote "series" books or had written at least two books with a similar theme or
central character, arguing that authors of series books assert more influence on readers
than do authors who have published just one book or use a character once. Poarch and
Monk-Turner randomly selected one book listed under each letter of the alphabet in the
children's section of easy readers in a large regional public library. Artifacts on each
page were coded using Crabb and Bielawski's (1994) definitions of"production," or
obj ects used to produce things outside of the household (construction equipment, auto
repair tools, dental tools, etc.); "household artifacts" (brooms, vacuums, etc.); and
"personal artifacts" (hairbrushes, toothbrushes, etc.) (Poarch & Monk-Turner, 2001, p.
73). A cross-rater analysis was performed using three volunteers who coded 15 books
with a 91.27 % reliability rate between the volunteers and the researchers.
Poarch and Monk-Turner' s results support the general research consensus that
males are depicted more than females, although in their sample nearly 40% of the
characters were female. Males were more often shown in an environment outside the
home, while females were typically shown inside the home, with the exception of female
characters, who were either teachers or females engaged in leisure activities such as
shopping. As I studied the books read aloud by the teachers in my study, I examined the
illustrations for evidence of gender and gender stereotyping.
In a study of 216 picture books reviewed in maj or j ournals in 1997, Lempke (1999)
found that 1 16 of the books contained all White characters or White main characters,
most dealing with issues such as growing up or staying up late. Of the 216 books, 42
contained animal characters, many of them animals as humans. Of those animals as
humans, most of them appeared to be middle-class and White. Eighteen of the books
were multicultural, but were either "tourist" (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987; Rochman,
1993) books about a particular culture or about a holiday. Just 21 of the books showed
diversity in characters or settings. Lempke (1999) found that two factors seemed to apply
to these 21 diverse books; classrooms are diverse and diversity is found in big cities, not
in small towns or suburbs. African-Americans were protagonists in seven books and
were in books that dealt with complex issues such as illiteracy, anger, and foster children.
Everyday issues such as staying up late were reserved for White characters.
Lempke (1999) observed that despite the large number of new immigrants to the
United States each year, very few immigrant children see themselves in the literature
being published and reviewed in maj or j ournals, and much of this literature contains
inaccuracies or perpetuates stereotypes, a statement supported by other researchers (Igoa,
1995; Lowery, 2000;Yenika-Agbaw, 2003). Lempke's research is important in that it
focuses on books dealing with the culture of immigrants that are promoted by respected
journals that are read by teachers and other adults responsible for reading to young
Social class has also been studied in children's literature, particularly in the
illustrations. Rodman (1994) studied how homes were depicted in 100 children's books
checked out from 23 metropolitan county public libraries. She found that over the past
50 years, the images of home and housing have not changed much. The primary image in
all the books was that of a traditional nuclear White family living in suburban, single
family detached houses. As part of the content analysis of my study, I studied the type of
housing and apparent social class depicted in the children's books read aloud by the
kindergarten teachers. I compared the social class depictions in the books with the social
class in the student audience.
A slight trend toward more culturally conscious literature seems to be apparent in
very recently published books (Galda et al. 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Short & Fox,
2003). Harris(2003) studied African-Americans in historical and contemporary
children's literature and concluded that more culturally conscious literature has emerged
in recent years, with Black authors taking more artistic risks. This trend suggests the date
of publication is an important factor in the read-aloud selections made by teachers. I
noted the date of publication and examined the ethnicities and stereotypes present in or
absent from the books teachers read aloud, while looking for differences in
representations in older versus more recently published books.
Other studies have been done on the works of specific authors to determine their
perspectives. In order to assess the authenticity of their books, Trousdale (1990)
explored the concept of author as "outsider" in a study of four award-winning books
about African-Americans. Trousdale analyzed the values and religious themes of the
books and found marked differences between books written by White authors and those
written by Black authors. He noted that the Black authors presented a more accurate and
less tourist-guide approach. Like Sims Bishop (1982) and Noll (2003), Trousdale
concluded that books written by "outsiders" need closer examination, agreeing that
defining outsiders and insiders can be complex and a difficult way to determine
authenticity and accuracy.
In my study, I examined the authors and illustrators of the books read aloud to
determine if they were "outsiders" or "insiders" to the culture about which they wrote and
studied how that issue was played out in the text or illustrations. Outsiders may or may
not be able to create authentic portrayals of other cultures (Lester, 1998; Noll, 2003;
Short & Fox, 2003), but it is important to examine if being an outsider or insider impacts
the story or pictures. For this reason, I asked four readers, including one African-
American and one with an Italian and Puerto Rican heritage to verify my interpretation.
Reading Preference and Interest Studies
As I analyzed the questionnaires, interview transcripts, and book logs, I examined
the responses for evidence that the teachers might have been familiar with common book
preferences of young children and if so, did they select books to read that young children
typically enjoy. In order to evaluate their responses effectively, I needed to be familiar
with the various reading preference and interest studies that have been done with
children. Along with content analyses, reading preference and interest studies are a
primary type of research into children's literature. Reading preferences indicate what
children might enj oy reading while reading interest studies focus on what children are
reading. Although reading preferences and interests are individualized, the common
reading preferences and interests are important to note in order to determine whether or
not children might have access to books they would most likely enj oy and how to expand
their interests. Further, children who are interested in the reading material will be more
engaged for longer periods of time (Harkrader & Moore, 1997; Saccardi, 1994; Stewig,
Amsden (1960) conducted a study of children' s preferences in picture books. She
selected a total of 60 children, 30 boys and 30 girls, from three to five years of age. The
race, ethnicity, and social class of the children is not mentioned in the study (which is
certainly a limitation) but the researcher does state that the children were students in
preschools located in Ithaca, New York, and Woodstock, Vermont. Amsden found that
the children preferred the picture to be on the right hand side of the page. A preference
was shown for illustrations with lots of colors. In contrast to earlier studies, which
suggested that children prefer bright, saturated colors (Bou & Lopez, 1955; Martin,
1931), these children preferred lighter, tinted illustrations. In addition, Amsden found
that the children preferred photographs rather than black and white line drawings, but
found no differences in the preferences of girls or boys.
In a more recent study, Wolfson et al. (1984) replicated an earlier study done by
Wolfson (1960) and studied the reading interests of 415 fourth grade boys and girls in the
Birmingham, Alabama city schools. The researchers used an instrument created by
Wolfson (1960), adding 10 multiethnic items to the 120- question instrument. They
found that while boys preferred adventure and machines and girls preferred the arts, there
was more of an overlap than the previous study showed. The researchers noted that boys
were more interested in personal or family issues than earlier noted and that both groups
enjoyed fantasy. When comparing the interests of minority and non-minority children,
the researchers found more similarities than differences in the two groups. They
recommend that teachers learn their students' interests and highlight those areas. In
addition, they suggest that fantasy, since it was the top choice of boys and the second
choice of girls, be available at different reading levels.
Harkrader and Moore (1997) studied the literature preferences of 405 fourth grade
boys and girls in a school district in Ohio. They found that both genders preferred fiction
and that boys liked non-Hiction better than girls, while girls liked Eiction better than boys.
Further, they found that boys preferred male main characters while girls preferred female
In a study of picture book selection behaviors of 102 preschool and kindergarten
children, Robinson et al. (1997) noted that emergent readers preferred modern and
traditional fantasy over other genres and typically selected books with one to Hyve lines of
text per page. Even more important is the Einding that the children preferred familiar
books and kindergartners in particular reselected familiar books more often than those
books with which they were unfamiliar. One limitation of this study is the fact that most
adults read fantasy to young children and that might have lead to the children's
preferences. More research needs to be done with children who are read different genres
to determine if exposure to other genres impacts their preferences.
Current thought on reading preferences and interests suggests that the primary
consideration should be learning children's interests and fostering their interests in other
areas, while not underestimating the child's ability to grasp more complex stories or
illustrations (Nodelman, 1996; Rothlein & Meinbach, 1996; Taxel, 2003). After
analyzing the books read aloud, I interviewed the teachers to determine if they were
aware of reading preferences and interest studies and if they appeared to take their
students' personal interests into account when selecting read-alouds.
Teacher Selection of Children's Literature for Classroom Use
In my study, I examined how and why teachers selected books to read aloud to
their students and what they considered important when selecting books. Here I report
the research on how teachers select books.
"Selective tradition" is a term used to denote the tendency of teachers to favor
literature that primarily features White, middle-class, European-American male authors
and subj ects over works by and about women and other ethnicities or social classes (Luke
et al. 1986, p. 209). In a survey of Australian student teachers, researchers asked student
teachers to choose a children' s book they enjoyed and felt would be a benefit to primary-
aged children. The results showed that the selections were primarily written by Anglo-
European males and were conventional characterizations. Most student teachers had not
considered the gender and race of either the authors or the characters in the books they
selected. The researchers concluded that their findings indicated an unconscious bias in
the student teachers' selections and attitudes. One weakness in this study is the
researchers' failure to acknowledge that the maj ority of children' s literature is written by
White authors and are about White characters, which may have limited the student
In a similar study, Jipson and Paley (1991) asked 55 female teachers to name three
children's books they had used in their classroom in the past year and explain why they
had chosen those books. Of the 155 books and 104 authors, 95% of the authors were of
European American heritage. Just five authors were minorities or other ethnicities.
Jipson and Paley (1991) also found that teachers chose books to read aloud for
three reasons. First, teachers appeared to select a book based on how the text fit within
the curriculum and instructional context. Second, they selected a book because either
they or their students liked the book or because it had won an award. Finally, a small
percentage of teachers selected books that they felt were important in portraying ethnicity
or gender. Instructional and curriculum reasons were the primary foundation for
teachers' decisions about books; 46% of teachers chose a book to fit in the unit being
studied or to teach a particular skill. Forty-five percent of the teachers selected a book
because of personal or aesthetic reasons such as the book was one enjoyed as a child or
the illustrator was a personal favorite. Just nine percent indicated that gender, race, or
ethnicity were factors in selection. Jipson and Paley's results support their conclusion
that book selection is part of a "complex, curricular process" and that the complexity of
the process creates an unconscious bias on the part of experienced teachers.
Hart and Rowley (1996) conducted a study of preservice teachers' decision-making
with regard to selecting children's literature for the elementary classroom. The
participants were give a selection of 1-page excerpts from what the researchers
determined to be 13 high quality children's books and asked to select five excerpts that
appeared to have the most value for classroom use and to explain the reasons behind their
selections. The researchers then implemented a 12-week course in multicultural
perspectives. At the end of the semester, the same packet of excerpts was redistributed
and the preservice teachers were again asked to select excerpts and explain their choices.
Their choices were categorized by instruction, personal, and quality of production. Sixty-
eight percent of the pre-intervention responses and 78% of the post-intervention
responses listed instructional reasons such as reading level, curricular integration, and
multicultural understanding. The multicultural understanding focus responses increased
from 41% to 95% after the intervention. Personal reasons, which included connections to
the preservice teachers' lives and backgrounds, decreased from 43% before the
intervention to less than 10% after the intervention. Reasons that dealt with production
quality or quality of illustrations increased from 42% before the intervention to 58% after
The researchers concluded that children's literature courses focusing on
multicultural issues may cause preservice teachers to think in different ways when
making choices about children's literature and support the idea that introducing
multicultural education through a children's literature course is an effective way to effect
change in preservice teachers' attitudes about book selection. Although the researchers
do not discuss this issue, it is interesting to note that the personal responses, which would
relate to enj oyment and aesthetic response, decreased significantly, suggesting that
perhaps the preservice teachers may have lessened in their beliefs that enjoying or
connecting with a text in a personal manner is important.
A similar study done by Johnson (1999) found that White teachers became more
racially conscious and empathetic after constructing autobiographical narratives of their
life histories. She found that teachers who became more racially aware had similar
characteristics; they worked with people from diverse backgrounds; they were able to
separate their identities from the White mainstream culture; and they leaned toward a
social justice philosophical system of beliefs.
Small (2000) studied how and why elementary teachers chose children's literature
and their responses as readers to the literature. She found that participants reported other
teachers being their primary source for learning about books. She also found that reading
aloud to students was the most-often cited reason for reading children's literature.
Teacher responses to children's literature were primarily efferent or instructionally
focused in nature. Small observed that participants valued aesthetic response, but were
not sure how to bring it into the classroom.
My study looked at the resources teachers said they used for selecting books to read
aloud and the reasons they said they read children's literature. I compared my results
with previous research done to see what aspects were similar and which were different. I
went further to actually examine those books teacher selected and compared their
selections to their responses about book selections.
In a study of this nature, it was necessary to have a solid background in a wide
range of theory and research. The theories and research upon which my work is based
suggest that reading aloud is important for children's development as readers and the
development of their critical-thinking skills, literary preferences, and beliefs about
reading and the world (Bus, 2003; Fox & Short, 2003; Peterman, 1988; West et al. 2000).
Good read-aloud experiences provide pleasure so children will want to read, and book
choice greatly impacts what children gain from the read-aloud experience (Bissex, 1980;
Rasinki, 1990). Research indicates that children typically engage more deeply in stories
and books that have characters, settings, and topics to which they can relate (Au, 1998;
Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Rosenblatt, 1994). I drew on a great many areas as I analyzed
the questionnaires, interview responses, observations, and the lists of books read aloud in
order to gain a greater insight into the kind of access to children's literature that this
group of teachers afforded to their students.
Since most kindergarten children are not yet independent readers, they rely
exclusively upon the adults in their lives to read for them; thus the books selected by
kindergarten teachers to read aloud in their classrooms have a powerful impact upon their
students. Particularly in cases where children are not read to at home, these read-aloud
events provide some children their only access to books. Therefore, it is important to
determine which books kindergarten teachers choose to read aloud and the reasons for
those decisions (Teale, 2003). The purpose of this study was to examine (using content
analysis) the ideas and messages conveyed in the books that a group of kindergarten
teachers read aloud to their students, and to explore the reasons (through questionnaires,
interviews, and observations) that teachers chose particular books to read aloud.
The Research Problem and Question
Identifying the problem and developing the question evolved through a
combination of personal and professional experience, the technical and theoretical
literature, and theoretical sensitivity. First, as an avid reader, I recognized the power of
books to profoundly change my view of the world (Herrera, 2000). Second, as a
classroom teacher, I saw first-hand how the books I read aloud influenced my students.
As a kindergarten teacher, I noted that because the children were usually emergent
readers, I held the key to much of their access to books. In many cases, the books I read
aloud were the books that they selected as their personal favorites, an observation
supported by research in the area of reading aloud (Altieri, 1993; Barrera & Bauer, 2003;
Hall, 2000; Merenda & White-Williams, 2001). Further, by my selections, I consciously
or inadvertently transmitted both covert and overt messages about what society as a
whole (and I as an individual) valued regarding such aspects as reading skills and
knowledge, in addition to messages about culture, race, ethnicity, social class, gender,
and ethics (Apple, 1996; Banks, 1988; Nodelman, 1996). With this in mind, I consulted
the technical and theoretical literature to better form my question (Spradley, 1980;
Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
I incorporated "theoretical sensitivity," a concept defined by Strauss and Corbin
(1990) as "a personal quality of the researcher" gained through professional and personal
experience, the literature, and the "analytic process of collecting data, analyzing the data,
and developing more questions" (pp. 41-44). Because this was a qualitative study, I
needed to ensure balance between the "creative and the scientific" (Strauss & Corbin,
1990, p.44). I was painting a picture of what teachers read aloud, but I needed to make
certain that my data were as accurate as possible. In order to do so, I stepped back often
to look at the data from a different perspective, to be certain that the data meant what they
appeared to mean. I was skeptical of the information, always questioning and keeping in
mind that the data and analysis were unavoidably subj ective to some degree, both on the
participants' part as well as my own. I kept the data-collection and analysis procedures
the same throughout the study, alternating between collecting and analyzing, in order to
ensure rigor (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
I used open coding in analyzing the questionnaires, which had been developed
during a pilot study the previous year (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). For the questionnaires, I
used a line-by-line analysis to develop categories based on the questions. For example,
one category that emerged was the reasons that teachers read aloud. The reasons were
both explicitly stated, such as to teach skills or for enjoyment, and implicitly stated such
as to pass time or to keep students calm. While analyzing the books, I incorporated a
selective coding approach, using initial categories such as genre, author, theme, and
gender. I then augmented the categories and developed a framework of semantic
relationships as the analysis progressed in order to gain a holistic portrait of the books
read aloud (Spradley, 1980; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
This study was conducted in three sections-- first, through a questionnaire, I
examined the factors that play a part in teachers' decisions about what they read aloud to
their classes. Second, through book-logs kept by teacher volunteers, I conducted a
content analysis of the books they read aloud to their students. Finally, to add richness
and depth, I narrowed the lens and focused on six teachers teaching in two schools in the
county with high poverty and high non-White populations, examining what these
particular teachers read aloud to their classes and the reasons behind their choices,
including beliefs, personal and professional backgrounds, access, and curriculum issues.
I interviewed the six focus teachers to learn about the children who were in these
classrooms and what their lives were like; I then observed five of the teachers read aloud.
Doing so allowed me to closely study the possible cultural match between the books read
aloud by these teachers and their students (Au & Raphael, 2000). Because of the
exploratory nature of my study, I was unable to determine the precise culture of each
child in each classroom, since each child had a different background and prior
experiences that shaped his or her culture (Harris, 2003). However, I was able to get
demographic information as well as information about free and reduced-price lunch
status, which afforded me descriptive data. Within the six focus classrooms, I was also
able to obtain information about the nature of these children' s family structures, such as
whether or not they lived with a mother or father or whether they had siblings.
The study took place in a Florida county of about 218,000. Nearly 70% of the total
population was of White, non-Hispanic or Latino heritage. The remaining population
was 19.3% Black, 5.7% Hispanic or Latino, 3.5% Asian, and .2% American Indian. The
average per capital income was $18,465, and 22.8% of the population lived below the
poverty line (Florida Department of Education, 2003). The schools in the district had a
variety of curriculum and instructional programs that were incorporated differently,
depending upon the principal and teachers at each school. The district' s purchased
programs included a newly purchased reading program, and science and mathematics
programs that were several years old. The teachers were provided a social studies
manual, but no additional materials were funded by the state. The reading, mathematics
and science programs all contained varying amounts of children' s literature or decodable
readers. In addition, the state required that the teachers instruct their students using
standards for language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies (Florida Department
of Education, 2003). Most kindergarten teachers in this district taught science and social
studies concepts using a unit-based approach lasting from two weeks to a month.
Common units included African safari, oceans, insects and plants, spiders, and holidays.
Despite school busing practices designed to increase diversity, the county was
divided along socioeconomic lines, with the schools on the east side typically having
more than 80% free and reduced-price lunch population, and the schools on the west side
having free and reduced-price lunch populations of 50% or less (Florida Department of
Education, 2003). The focus schools in this study were neighborhood schools on the east
side. Jackson Elementary had three buses and Sunshine Elementary had one bus for
incoming students; the rest walked or rode their bikes to school. Jackson had a free and
reduced-price lunch population of 94% and a minority population of 94%, while
Sunshine Elementary had an 84% free and reduced-price lunch population and a minority
population of 85%.
Design and Procedures
I designed the study based on the results of a pilot study done a year earlier with
seven teacher volunteers from two schools in the county. During the pilot work, I
interviewed the teachers about their read-aloud practices, including how they found
books to read and what factors went into their decisions. I developed a questionnaire,
which they completed. Afterwards, I sat down with each teacher and discussed their
answers, rewording questions that were leading or threatening (Nachmias & Nachmias,
1987). Using their responses as a guide, I developed the questionnaire used in my study.
The seven teachers agreed to keep a log of books they read aloud for a month's
time. I created several versions of a log form before finding one that they all found to be
simple to fill out. From their feedback, I found that a month was too long and that they
would prefer to keep a record for no more than a week at a time, in order to keep their
workloads manageable. In addition, both schools taught in a team format, studying the
same science or social studies topic at the same time, which meant that the books read
aloud by the kindergarten teachers at School A were overwhelmingly about alligators and
Africa and the books read aloud by the kindergarten teachers at School B were primarily
about oceans and sea life. After discussion, we decided that keeping the logs over three
1-week periods during three different months would be manageable for the teacher and
would give a greater variety of books to analyze.
I began this study by submitting a request to the university to conduct research.
After approval, I submitted a request to do research in the 24 public elementary schools
(with kindergartens) in the county. Principals at 15 schools agreed to allow me access to
their kindergarten teachers, a total of 36 teachers. The other seven principals provided a
variety of reasons for their refusals.
I sent questionnaires to the 36 teachers and received responses from 28, or 78%.
Teachers from 12 of the 15 schools returned questionnaires. A total of 25 White females,
two African-American females, and one White male responded. The teachers who did not
reply said they were too busy to complete the questionnaire. I was satisfied with the 78%
response rate, because a good response rate is 75% or higher (Nachmias & Nachmias,
1987). I attributed my good response rate to the fact that this was a university town
(teachers participated in a lot of studies) and I was a fellow teacher, which may have
made them more willing to participate.
The questionnaire that I developed during the pilot study used both close-ended and
open-ended questions (Appendix A). I designed the instrument primarily in a "funnel
sequence" in which each question related to the previous question and became
"progressively narrower in scope" (Nachmias & Nachmias, 1987). Research shows that
the order in which questions are presented influences the respondent' s willingness to
answer. Therefore, the first questions were close-ended, designed to put the respondent
at ease. I placed more personal or evaluative questions at the end of the instrument.
Interspersed open-ended and closed-ended questions increased response accuracy
(Nachmias & Nachmias, 1987). The question order, item position, and rank position can
affect the response reliability. For example, items appearing first are often ranked higher
or endorsed more often. In order to avoid systematic bias, I randomized the order of
presentation and rank so that the order effects would be randomized as well (Carpenter &
Blackwood, 1979; Gall et al. 1996; Nachmias & Nachmias, 1987).
Mail questionnaires, though impersonal, allow the researcher to gather descriptive
data from a large number of people, in this case 28 kindergarten teachers, with minimal
cost involved. An advantage of the mail questionnaire is that it reduces biasing errors
that might result from personal interactions. The mail questionnaire also allows
respondents time to consider their answers and to respond at their convenience.
Mail questionnaires are limited in that they are self-reports and may be inaccurate.
They also require simple answers and do not allow for probing. I dealt with those issues
by including a request on the questionnaire for further contact. When I received the
questionnaires, I was able to call teachers whose answers were incomplete or needed to
be clarified. Subsequent personal interviews with the siz focus teachers gave me another
chance to probe and verify information.
The most serious disadvantage of a mail questionnaire is its potential for a low
response rate. The typical response rate for a mail questionnaire is between 20% and
40%. In an attempt to increase the response rate, I distributed the questionnaires through
the principals or personal contacts at the schools. Further, I included a semi-personal
cover letter explaining that I was a fellow teacher and discussing the importance of this
study and included a self-addressed, stamped envelope to encourage timely responses.
Using the list of teachers who received the questionnaires, I phoned those who did not
respond within a week and asked them again to complete and return the questionnaires.
From personal experience I knew that teachers are busy and often burdened with
paperwork, so I offered to send replacement questionnaires when necessary. Only two
teachers needed a replacement questionnaire.
Read-Aloud Book Logs
Qualitative researchers frequently use written documents or "quantitative records"
as primary sources for numerical information (Gall et al. 1996, p.653). A few studies
have collected information on the books that teachers read aloud, but I did not find a
format that met the needs of this study (Sipe, 1999; Stone & Twardosz, 2001). In order
to collect the information on the books read aloud from a fairly large group of teachers, I
devised a log form that gave me the necessary information to later collect and analyze the
book (Appendix A). The log included spaces for the date read, the title, the author and
illustrator, and the date of publication. This information helped ensure that I would be
able to find a copy of the same book the teacher read aloud.
Twenty-two teachers who returned the questionnaire agreed to keep a log of the
books they over the course of three 1-week periods. The remaining six teachers said they
were too busy to keep a log and did not want to try and keep track of the books they read
After the first week, 16 teachers had returned the logs through the school truck mail
or through the U.S. mail. I called the others and two more teachers returned the logs, for a
total of 18. Four teachers elected not to participate.
A total of 18 teachers kept the logs for the entire data-collection period. The
volunteer teacher participants (consisting of 17 females, two African-American, 15
White, and one White male) kept logs of books read aloud over three 1-week periods in
March, April, and May. I provided the logs and called to remind the teachers to list their
books, but this type of self-reporting runs the risk of teachers providing inaccurate or
incomplete information (Gall et al. 1996). During a pilot study, I found that shorter
periods for reporting allowed teachers to check their plan books or the stack of books by
their read-aloud areas to make sure they documented the books read aloud, decreasing the
possibility of incorrect data and making the task more manageable for the teachers.
When evaluating documents, researchers engage in "external" and "internal" criticism
(Gall et al. 1996, pps.657-659). "External criticism" involves making sure the document
is legitimate. In this case, I spoke directly with the teachers who completed the
documents and said that they listed all the books they read aloud. Because I collected the
documents promptly, I was able to determine that the dates the books read aloud were
fairly accurate. Using the public library, I found each book listed and was able to verify
the title, author, illustrator, and date of publication. If I could not find the book, I called
the teacher who had read it and arranged to borrow it.
"Internal criticism" deals with the accuracy and worth of the statements in the
document (Gall et al. 1996). This was more difficult to determine, since I relied on self-
report and my conversations with the teachers. However, whenever possible, I used their
responses on the questionnaire to confirm their responses on the logs. For example, if a
teacher had listed 10 books on the read-aloud log for the week, I checked the
questionnaire response to see how many books she reported typically reading over a
In qualitative studies, data collected often lead to "subsequent data-collection
activities" (Gall et al. 1996, p. 559). After the logs were returned, I found that all 18
teachers read similar kinds books, even though the teachers were in classrooms and
schools that varied a great deal with regard to race and socioeconomic demographics.
Many of the kindergarten teams in this district devised their curriculum around social
studies and science units, which meant that many of the books were informational or non-
fiction. Perhaps as a result, teachers from mostly White, middle-income schools read
many of the same books as the teachers from the mostly African-American, low-income
schools. After discovering this, I elected to focus on two of the lowest income schools,
with high minority African-American populations, conditions that are often absent from
children's literature. Socioeconomic class, race, and culture have been linked to
children's literary response and comprehension (Hancock, 1993; Hemphill, 1999; Sims,
1983). I wanted to explore the match between the read-aloud books used by teachers in
these schools and the students in their classrooms. I selected these schools with the
understanding that minority children often score lower on reading assessments than their
White counterparts and that "long-standing and unacceptably large differences in reading
performance related to student poverty levels" (Adler & Fisher, 2001, p. 616). I chose
Jackson Elementary and Sunshine Elementary because all the teachers had completed the
questionnaires and book logs, which afforded a clear picture of the books read aloud to
emergent readers at these schools.
The six teachers in the focus group agreed to allow me to observe their read-aloud
sessions and to interview them in-depth about their read aloud practices and their
students. One teacher later became ill and I was unable to observe her read aloud. All
six teachers were middle-class, female, and married; two were African-American. Their
teaching experience ranged from three to 25 years.
Critical Content Analysis
After I collected the logs from the 18 teacher volunteers, I gathered copies of the
428 books the teachers reported reading. I found 411 of the books using the public
library. The other 17 books were either out of print or part of a purchased reading
program (Succssfor ll or Wright Group Sunshine Readers), but I was able to obtain
the books directly from the teachers.
I noted the genre and themes of each book, sorting them by categories defined
using Lynch-Brown and Tomlinson's (1999) Essentials of children's literature. I then
researched authors and illustrators, noting their genders, cultures, and ethnicities. Using
the Internet, I researched which books had won awards and searched for reviews. I
examined the books for evidence of social class, race, ethnicity, and gender, compiling
the data using Strauss & Corbin's (1990) selective coding, and Spradley's (1980)
semantic relationships framework to organize domains and taxonomies (LeCompte,
I taught in a low socioeconomic school with a large African-American population
for nearly seven years and taught children's literature at the local state university at a
time when the school had established a social justice focus. However, I am a White,
middle-class female from the mainstream culture. As such, I guarded as much as
possible against "blind assumptions" that I might make when evaluating the books by
recruiting four volunteer readers to examine the books as well (Fondrie, 2001; Helms,
1993; Hinchey, 1998). The volunteer readers included a White female children's
literature professor; a female kindergarten teacher with Italian and Puerto Rican heritage;
an African-American mother of three; and a White female teacher with 10 years
experience at the elementary school level, a specialist degree in education, and adjunct
teaching experience in children's literature, reading, and language arts at the local
university. The volunteer readers read selected books with an eye for theme, gender,
ethnicity, social class, and stereotypes. First, I defined the genre, using the definitions
provided by Lynch-Brown and Tomlinson (1999). We analyzed the theme and content,
and examined the text and illustrations, looking for issues of gender, ethnicity, race, and
social class (Darigan et al. 2002; Nodelman, 1996). We discussed possible stereotypes
and looked for evidence of stereotypes being countered.
After compiling a master list of books read-aloud, I split the list into parts and gave
each volunteer reader books to read and analyze. I read and analyzed all the books,
sending the readers my notes on many of the books, and asking them to examine my
observations and add comments. I met with the children's literature professor at the
public library and we spent several hours analyzing books from the list.
When a volunteer reader and I disagreed or were uncertain on a point, I got
additional feedback from other volunteer evaluators. For example, in Mayer's (1968)
There's a Ninhtmare in my closet, one volunteer noted that the toys included
stereotypical "boy" toys such as an army helmet, a rifle, a cannon, and toy soldiers, but
did not notice a particular social class. After review and discussion, we agreed that the
book, although somewhat dated, was middle-class, as defined by the size of the room, the
type of furniture, and the amount and kinds of toys.
Telephone interviews can be used to collect sensitive data (Gall et al. 1996). Upon
receipt of the first group of book logs from the 18 teachers, I examined them closely. If
the teacher had left a space blank or answered a question vaguely, I called to clarify the
information. I was careful not to make any evaluative or judgmental comments during the
conversation (Gall et al. 1996).
Nonscheduled semi-structured personal interviews
After selecting Jackson and Sunshine Elementary schools, I contacted the six
teachers and asked them if they would agree to meet with me for interviews. Personal
interviews are face-to-face situations in which the interviewer asks respondents
questions. Nonscheduled semi-structured interviews (those that take place when the
respondents have participated in a known experience) allow the interviewer to probe for
more depth. The semi-structured interview is a fluid guide that contains some close-
ended questions, but also allows the interviewer to probe with questions that might be
difficult to express or sensitive, such as beliefs or feelings (Gall et al.1996). Using the
questionnaire responses and books logs, I developed a basic interview guide for each
teacher and then added or changed questions as the interview progressed (Appendix A).
I recorded the interview by taking notes with a laptop computer. As I typed the
answers into the computer, the respondent often took time to think and to elaborate on
their responses. Many times the respondent continued talking as I typed notes into the
computer. When the responses were personal, I made eye contact with the respondent
and delayed note taking until after the respondent had finished her statement. An
advantage to the computer is that it facilitated my data-analysis, but I also found that the
respondents extended their answers as I typed. I verified what they said after I completed
the responses and made any necessary clarifications (Gall et al. 1996).
I used the information from the interviews to extend the questionnaire responses
and to provide an in-depth description of the focus schools.
The six focus teachers at both schools agreed to allow me to observe them read
aloud to their students, although one teacher fell ill and I was unable to observe her.
Observation is a common method of data-collection in qualitative research, enabling the
researcher to notice what occurs (independent of the participants' responses) and allows
for triangulation of the data. "The inclusion of selected observations in a researcher' s
report provides a more complete description of phenomena than would be possible by
just referring to interview statements or documents" (Gall et al. 1996, p. 344).
I approached the observations from the role of "complete observer," meaning that I
stayed in the background and did not interact with the event (Gall et al. 1996, p. 345). I
had practiced observations in university courses, but I refreshed my skills by watching a
fellow teacher who was not involved in the study read aloud. During the focus classroom
observations, I arrived early, before the children were in the room, using the time to make
note of the kinds of books present in the room. When the children arrived, they were
initially curious about my presence, but soon seemed to forget about me and returned to
what the teacher said was their typical behavior. During this time, I watched the student-
to-student and student-to-teacher interactions. When the teacher began the read -aloud
session, I noted the "rules" of the event, such as hand raising or calling out. I watched
the students' responses, both verbal and nonverbal, to the book, taking notes and listing
questions I had. After the observation, I went to the car to flesh out my notes and to
reflect (Gall et al. 1996).
When the school day was over and the children had left, I returned to talk with each
teacher about the event and wrote down her perceptions of what had occurred, taking the
opportunity to ask questions about the event or how children responded. During the
conversation, I was able to learn more about the teacher, the students, and their
backgrounds, which added valuable insight to the classroom portrait. At the end of the
observation and interview, I wrote about these events as cases for further examination as
data to help answer my question about the books that teachers chose to read aloud.
This study was highly descriptive, using a blend of quantitative and qualitative
methods, incorporating a questionnaire, interviews, observations and data-collection, and
a content analysis. Such an array was necessitated by the exploratory nature of the
questions. The schools in the study were those whose principals chose to participate and
they were all in one school district. The schools were not randomly selected and were
not a sample of a larger population. Rather, these schools fit within my study as I
explored the cultural match between the books the teachers read aloud and the students in
their classrooms. Twenty-eight of 36 kindergarten teachers completed the questionnaire
and 18 teachers kept logs of the books they read aloud.
Limitations were noted with the questionnaires, the interviews, and the logs as well.
The participants knew I was a teacher, which may have caused them to give what they
thought was the "best" answer (Gall et al. 1996). The book-logs were self-report and
may have had incorrect data. Furthermore, the teachers who agreed to keep the logs
valued both reading and participating in my study, and therefore might have been more
involved in reading aloud than the teachers who chose not to participate in the study.
Additional limitations are found in my definition of culture as it related to the
students in the study. Culture is complex concept that includes the students' background,
race, ethnicity, social class, and family (Fox & Short, 2003). Moreover, the everyday
culture of children can include life in the classroom, on the playground, and other events
that mark childhood, such as losing a tooth (Dyson, 1993; Heath, 1983). The nature of
my study did not afford me access to these areas. In order to limit measurement error, I
narrowed my definition of culture to data to which I had access: the gender, race,
ethnicity, and social class as defined by free and reduced-price lunch status.
I was the primary person interpreting the data, which meant a certain level of
subjectivity was unavoidable (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The trustworthiness of the data
is increased through triangulation from the questionnaires, the interviews, the
observations, and with the use of a diverse group of four volunteer readers who assisted
in the content analysis section. The volunteer readers limited my personal assumptions of
the content analysis and added another dimension through their perspectives.
My study was a descriptive snapshot of a small group of teachers and their read-
aloud practices along with a detailed analysis of the books they and 12 of their peers
selected to read aloud. Because little analysis has been done on the books that teachers
read aloud to their students, this study was intended to add to the body of research
(Pelligrini & Galda, 2003; Teale, 2003).
WHAT AND WHY KINDERGARTEN TEACHERS READ ALOUD: FINDINGS
FROM THE QUESTIONNAIRES
After obtaining approval from the Institution Review Board, I submitted a request
to do research in the county and was approved. I sent applications for research to the
principals of the 24 public elementary schools (with kindergartens) in the county. I
excluded the charter schools to limit the variables. Principals of 15 or 62% of the
schools, agreed to allow their 36 kindergarten teachers to participate in the research.
I sent questionnaires to the kindergarten teachers at the approved schools to find
out more about the teachers' read-aloud practices and why they read aloud to their
students. In addition, I used the questionnaires to collect demographic and other
descriptive data on the classroom students and to determine if the teachers would be
willing to keep a log of the books they had read aloud over the course of several weeks,
and if they would be willing to be interviewed further. Twenty-eight teachers, or nearly
78%, returned the questionnaires.
Teacher, Student, and School Demographics
After the questionnaires were returned, I sorted the data into groups and categories
through open coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The results of the questionnaires are first
introduced in table format. The tables are then followed with explanation and discussion
of the data presented.
Table 1. Number, gender, and race of teachers responding to questionnaire
Total number Number of Of those Of those Of those
of teachers who teachers who responding, responding, responding,
were sent completed number of number of non- number of
questionnaires uetionnaires White females White females White males
36 28 25 2 1
Percentage 78% 89% 7% 3.6%
I sent questionnaires to each teacher through the intercampus mail system and
contacted by phone and email those teachers who had not responded by the requested
date. Twenty-eight of the 36 teachers returned the questionnaires, which made a
response rate of nearly 78%, a high rate for mail questionnaires (Nachmias & Nachmias,
1987). Twenty-four of those teachers responding, or 86%, agreed to be interviewed
about their responses. Three teachers returned the questionnaires, but refused to be
interviewed, stating that their schedules were too busy. Twenty-two of the 28 responding
teachers, or 79%, agreed to keep a log of books they read aloud. Four teachers later
dropped out of the study, stating that they were too busy to keep the logs. Eighteen
teachers, or 50% of the kindergarten teachers originally participating in the study
returned the three book logs for analysis.
Of the twenty-eight teachers who returned the questionnaire, 27 were females and
one was male. The male was White. Two female teachers were African-American; the
rest were White.
Table 2. Kindergarten teacher degrees held and early childhood certification
Number of Bachelor Masters Specialist in Early-Child
Teachers Degree Degree Education Certification
28 13 13 2 28
Percentae 46% 46% 7% 100%
The education level included 13 teachers, or slightly more than 46%, with bachelor
degrees; 13 teachers, again over 46% with master of education degrees; and two teachers,
or 7%, with specialist (Ed.S.) degrees. At the time of this study, Florida required that
kindergarten teachers be certified in early-childhood education (age-3 to age-8) and all of
the responding teachers held early-childhood certification.
Table 3. Years of teaching experience
Number of Teachers Average number of years Average number of years
teaching teaching kindergarten
28 16.6 years 16.6 years
Total teaching experience ranged from less than a year to 34 years, with a mean of
16.6 years teaching experience and a median of 15 years, a Eigure in line with the
county's average number of years of teaching experience, which was 14.8. Experience
teaching kindergarten ranged from less than a year to 34 years, with a mean of 16.6 and a
median of 15 years, indicating that many of these teachers elected to teach kindergarten
through much of their career. Seven teachers, or 25%, from four Title I schools with a
low socioeconomic status, which I defined as a higher than 70% free and reduced-price
lunch population, were the least experienced, with four or fewer years teaching
Table 4. Average class size and average number of male and female students
Average K Class Size Average number of male Average number of female
20.6 11 10
The kindergarten teachers reported that their class sizes ranged from 17 to 23
students with an average of 20.6 students, divided fairly evenly between males and
females. The number of male students ranged from 7 to 14, with an average of 11 males
in each classroom. The number of female students ranged from 7 to 13, with a slightly
lower average of 10 females in each classroom.
White/non- Hispanic or African- Asian/Pacific Biracial, multiracial
Hispanic Latino American Islander American Indian or
6 6% 2% 2 8% 2% 2%
Sixty-six percent of the students in seven classrooms located outside the city limits
were White and 28% were African-American. The remaining 6% were Hispanic/Latino,
Asian/Pacific Islander, or other races or ethnicities.
Table 6. Ethnicity and race of students in twelve west side classrooms
White/non- Hispanic African- Asian/Pacific Biracial,multiracial
Hispanic or American Islander American Indian or
76% 2.5% 18% 2% 3.5%
Although similar in class size and gender, the schools within the city limits were
quite different along the lines of racial ethnicity, depending on the area of the city where
the schools were located. The 12 kindergarten classes in schools on the west side of the
county were made up of 76% White and 18% African-American students. Eight percent
of the students were of other races or ethnicities.
Table 7. Ethnicity and race of students in nine east side classrooms
White/Non- Hispanic or African- Asian/Pacific Biracial, multiracial
Hispanic Latino American Islander American Indian or
4% 2% 8 5% 2% 7%
Despite the fact that some students were bused to schools on the west side of the
city, a practice which contributed to a less than 25% ratio of minority students, a high
number of African-American students both lived and attended schools on the east side of
the city. In these schools, nine kindergarten teachers indicated that their classrooms had
an average of 19 students. African-American students made up 85% of the total number
of students in each class. White students made up 4% of the classrooms. Finally,
biracial, Hispanic, or students of other ethnicities made up the remaining 1 1%.
I used the questionnaire to gain information regarding how teachers obtained the
books they read aloud and why, how much, and what they read aloud to their students. I
then analyzed the results, looking for patterns and generalizations among the responses
(Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The results helped me design guided interview schedules and
triangulate data obtained from the book logs and the personal interviews. In this section,
the tables are again presented first, followed by discussion of the data in the table.
Table 8. Reading-aloud practices of teachers
Average Average time Average time Number of Average
number of of reading of discussion or teachers number of
books read aloud session retelling rereading at book-related
aloud each day activity least 1 book a activities done
3 14 minutes 5 minutes 4 2
One of the questions I wanted to answer was how much kindergarten teachers read
aloud to their students. Although the research shows reading aloud is an important part
of a literate classroom, and that most teachers read aloud to their students on a regular
basis studies on how much reading aloud is done each day by teachers report varying
amounts (Martinez & Roser, 1985; Galda & Cullinan, 1991; Klesius & Griffith, 1996).
Langer et al. (1990) reported that just over half of teachers read aloud daily. Morrow
(1992) found that pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers read an average of 12
stories over a four-week period. Hoffman et al. (1993) found that 84% of kindergarten
teachers read aloud an average of once a day. The researchers noted that the books were
unrelated to the current unit of study, that discussions of the books took less than 5
minutes, and response activities rarely followed the read-aloud session. The 28 teachers
who returned the questionnaire reported reading from two to seven books a day, with the
average teacher reading three books per day. Their average session lasted almost 14
minutes, for a total of about 41 minutes of reading aloud each day. The average
discussion time lasted 5 minutes, similar to other studies (Jewell & Pratt, 1999). All 28
teachers indicated that curriculum and schedule demands affected their read-aloud events.
Twenty-six teachers, or nearly 93%, reported doing book-related activities such as
writing or drawing responses for an average of two books per day; a practice supported
by research (Paley, 1981; Wollman-Bonilla & Werchadlo, 1999).
Table 9. Kindergarten children's access to school librr
Number of teachers of 28 responding who Number of classes allowed to check
said their students visited library at least out books at least once per week
once per week.
In the school setting, kindergarten children may have access to the school library or
media center. Twenty-seven, or 96% of the teachers reported that their students visited
the library for about half an hour each week. One teacher said she did not have time to
take her students to the media center every week. During the library time, the teachers
reported that the media specialist usually read at least one book aloud to the students,
although 89% said that the media specialist sometimes showed a book-related video or
taught library skills rather than reading aloud. Further, 26 teachers, or almost 93%, stated
that their students were allowed to check out a library book each week, if they did not
have any books overdue. This response indicates that although the amount varies, most
of the students did have access to books in addition to what the teacher read aloud and
what was provided in the classroom setting.
Table 10. Why teachers say they read aloud to their students
Most important reason for Number of teachers out Percentage of 28 teachers
reading aloud of a total of 28
To enjo the literature 21 75%
To teach pe-reading skills 5 18%
To teach story 1 4%
To teach ethics/develop 1 4%
Reading-aloud is widely accepted as a way to foster children' s enj oyment of
literature, their interest in reading, and their questioning and discussing behaviors
(Anderson et al, 1985; May, 1995; McGillis, 1988; Morrow, 1983; Short et al. 1996). In
surveying the kindergarten teachers, I wanted to find out what their most important
reason was for reading aloud to their students. On the questionnaire, I asked them list the
most important factor when reading aloud. I also asked them to rank nine choices by
order of importance. The choices included "to teach pre-reading skills (phonemic
awareness)"; "to teach story conventions"; "to teach information"; "to teach math"; "to
teach cultural knowledge"; "to teach ethics and character"; "to enj oy the literature"; "to
counter negative stereotypes"; and "to introduce discussion of complex topics". Teachers
selected five of the nine as their first choices for most important reason to read aloud.
Seventy-five percent of the teachers stated that reading to foster their students' enj oyment
of literature was their primary reason for reading aloud supporting the research on beliefs
about reading aloud. Five teachers, or almost 18%, reported that they read aloud to
promote pre-reading skills. One teacher reported that teaching story conventions and
language was most important, and one teacher reported that teaching ethics and character
was most important. Research indicates that reading aloud supports children's learning
to read as well as their developing understanding of story conventions (Clay, 1985;