Ed. by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, Jörg Meibauer, Kerstin Nachtigäller, and Katharina J. Rohlfing. Series: Explorations in Developmental Psychology; 3. London: Routledge, 2015. 231 pages.
With chapter contributors coming from fields such as developmental psychology, optometry and vision science, early-years education, clinical linguistics, international children’s literature, multimodal literacy, linguistics, philosophy, and preschool education—this scholarly work is a compendium of interdisciplinary approaches which looks into how children acquire language as well as develop cognitive, emotional, and emergent literacy skills through picturebooks. While it runs the risk of appearing like a hodge-podge of disconnected studies with such a wide variety of disciplines gathered together in one text, the editors have done a remarkable job of structuring each chapter in such a way that the core connecting thread of how children learn from picture books runs through this academic text that features empirical investigations conducted or reviewed extensively by the chapter contributors.
The book is divided into three major sections. Part One, “Symbol-based [End Page 62] learning in picturebooks,” consists of four chapters that examine how different types of children’s books can be matched across children’s developmental stages (Kümmerling-Meibauer and Meibauer), and how it is essential for educators/parents to be cognizant of what children already know regarding the nature of symbols and how certain forms of illustrations (such as photographs and realistic drawings) may be better able to facilitate understanding and capacity to form generalizations through picturebooks (Ganea & Canfield). In his chapter, Meibauer unpacks Paul Stickland’s Lastwagen in excruciating detail, breaking it down into phonology, morphology, syntax, and pragmatics to highlight how descriptive picturebooks should not be underestimated when it comes to developing children’s narrative skills and learning. Boon and Dain’s chapter presents their own empirical study with ninety-four infants and young children of preschool age, involving fluorescent tube lamps and lightboxes (among others) to examine their color preferences, with the overwhelming results showing all respondents preferring color over grayscale pictures. This led the authors to conclude that “it would be prudent for all picturebooks to employ color, as preschool children will interact with the color” (89).
Part Two, “Co-constructed learning from picturebooks,” has four chapters which detail the influence of caregivers in scaffolding the process of learning among children. This includes the impact of caregivers’ gesturing, verbal and nonverbal behavior in joint book reading (Rohlfing, Grimminger, & Nachtigäller), and how specific reading routines (such as asking questions, encouraging children’s engagement during shared book reading, and providing relevant and appropriate feedback to children’s verbalizations) contribute to young children’s vocabulary growth (Blewitt). Lancaster and Flewitt explore how texts, tools, objects, and activities constitute a network of representational worlds that influence children’s intentional and meaningful engagement, reflective of what they refer to as ‘distributed cognition’ in early literacy. Moschovaki and Meadows’ chapter presents their research study with twenty teachers from kindergarten schools in Greece, showing that teachers’ affective strategies (intonation, dramatization, personal interest) are instrumental in making children more attentive and engaged despite the fact that books become increasingly difficult.
In Part Three, “Learning language skills from picturebooks,” the boundaries between the previous section and this one seem to blur a little with chapters that also explore how word learning (Horst) and children’s oral language and literacy skills (Reese) may be developed through shared picturebook reading—similar to the chapters indicated in the previous section. Stark’s examination of nineteen German picturebooks in the final chapter demonstrates how picturebooks play a significant role in the tense-acquisition process and language development among children. While there are attempts to provide useful recommendations to educators, parents, and picturebook makers in a few of the chapters, this edited book which utilizes academic language and frameworks primarily aims to build the theoretical foundations for future interdisciplinary research. A concluding chapter synthesizing the perspectives presented in various fields across the different chapters, complete with detailed practical tips and strategies, would have broadened the audience base of this rigorously-examined academic text.