READING BEYOND: CHILDREN’S LIVED SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES OF FANTASY LITERATURE

Open Access
Author:
Posey, Catherine Ruth
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
June 01, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Daniel Dean Hade, Dissertation Advisor
  • Daniel Dean Hade, Committee Chair
  • Ann M Trousdale, Committee Chair
  • Richard Ammon Jr., Committee Member
  • Alison Alene Carr Chellman, Committee Member
  • Jacqueline J A Reid Walsh, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • children's literature
  • spirituality
  • language arts
  • reader-response
  • elementary education
Abstract:
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe four children’s lived spiritual experiences of literary texts as generated through their responses to two toy fantasy novels for children, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (2006) and The Mouse and his Child by Russell Hoban (1967). The theoretical framework was situated within interpretivism, reader-response theory, and a conception of spirituality as a universal tendency in humans to reach out for deep connection with something greater than themselves. Four children, aged ten and eleven, were interviewed three different times, and their artwork drawn in response to the two novels was collected. The method of phenomenological thematic analysis was employed to analyze the interview transcripts and artwork of the children. Three themes of a spiritual reading were generated through the children’s responses to the two novels, and these included applications of the central ideas of the novels related to the human experience, the Divine, and the mysterious. The findings of this study offer several implications for both research and teaching in elementary language and literacy education. Though this study has provided a rich description of some children’s spiritual experiences of literary texts, there is room for further research to broaden and deepen our understanding in the area of children’s spirituality and children’s literature. This understanding could be expanded through future research with children, of different faiths and none, reading and responding to other genres of children’s literature. Other genres of possibility include picturebooks, children’s literature in translation, and folktales. Research focused on small groups of children talking about their responses to literature with their peers could also provide fruitful data. Additionally, the field invites other methodologies such as grounded theory or ethnography. Educators are encouraged to select stories for their students that reflect spiritual dimensions and illuminate questions of meaning. With such texts curriculum writers might develop resources that give children the opportunity to express their spirituality through both literary and artistic activities. Finally, these findings point to the importance of adults truly listening to children’s spiritual ideas that emerge as they respond to literature through multiple methods.