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Examining Agency in Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

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Abstract

Given increased attention toward nonfiction and informational texts due to recent educational reforms in the nation, it is critical to examine how various cultural identities are depicted in nonfiction children’s picture books. Focusing on the Orbis Pictus honor and awarded texts (n = 60) from 1990 to 2019, this article reports the findings of a critical multicultural analysis of the depictions of age, sex, socio-economic status, ethnicities, and geographic regions of these awarded texts. Using a secondary analysis of opportunities for agency, we examine how focal subjects (Crisp in Lang Arts 92(4):241–255, 2015) exert their agency in their respective contexts. Our aim in doing so is to problematize the notion of agency in these texts, specifically understanding who exerts agency, how, and for what purposes. Findings suggest that the authors of these awarded texts rely on highlighting White, European males where agency is typically depicted as an act that occurs in adulthood. As a result, discussion focuses on how such texts, although well-meaning, perhaps perpetuate the traditional notion and passivity of young children in relation to their agency and calls to question the lack of multiple perspectives and voices in the awarded texts.
Vol.:(0123456789)
Children’s Literature in Education (2022) 53:33–51
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-021-09435-y
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Examining Agency inChildren’s Nonfiction Picture Books
MargaretVaughn1 · VeraSotirovska2· JanineJ.Darragh2· MohamedElhess2
Accepted: 4 January 2021 / Published online: 29 January 2021
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. part of Springer Nature 2021,
corrected publication 2021
Abstract
Given increased attention toward nonfiction and informational texts due to recent
educational reforms in the nation, it is critical to examine how various cultural iden-
tities are depicted in nonfiction children’s picture books. Focusing on the Orbis Pic-
tus honor and awarded texts (n = 60) from 1990 to 2019, this article reports the find-
ings of a critical multicultural analysis of the depictions of age, sex, socio-economic
status, ethnicities, and geographic regions of these awarded texts. Using a secondary
analysis of opportunities for agency, we examine how focal subjects (Crisp in Lang
Arts 92(4):241–255, 2015) exert their agency in their respective contexts. Our aim
in doing so is to problematize the notion of agency in these texts, specifically under-
standing who exerts agency, how, and for what purposes. Findings suggest that the
authors of these awarded texts rely on highlighting White, European males where
agency is typically depicted as an act that occurs in adulthood. As a result, discus-
sion focuses on how such texts, although well-meaning, perhaps perpetuate the tra-
ditional notion and passivity of young children in relation to their agency and calls
to question the lack of multiple perspectives and voices in the awarded texts.
Margaret Vaughn is an associate professor at Washington State University. Her research explores
adaptive and equitable practices to support student agency and literacy learning.
Vera Sotirovska is a doctoral student at the University of Idaho. Her research explores children’s
literature and literacy opportunities to support all learners.
Janine J. Darragh is an associate professor at the University of Idaho. Her research explores
sociocultural issues in children’s and young adult literature.
Mohamed Elhess is a doctoral student at the University of Idaho. His research explores students’
sense of belonging and identity in learning spaces.
In the original publication of the article unfortunately contained a mistake in the name of co-
author Vera Sotirvoska. The correct name should be Vera Sotirovska. The original article has been
corrected.
* Margaret Vaughn
margaret.vaughn@wsu.edu
1 Washington State University, 1155 College Avenue, Pullman, WA99164-2114, USA
2 University ofIdaho, 875 Perimeter Drive, P.O. Box443082, Moscow, ID83844, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
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