- Performing Kamishibai: An Emerging New Literacy for a Global Audience by Tara M. McGowan
Written by Tara M. McGowan, Performing Kamishibai: An Emerging New Literacy for a Global Audience explores the potential of the Japanese performance tradition of kamishibai in an educational setting. The study analyzes McGowan's experiences introducing kamishibai in two different classrooms; it also discusses its potential to upend traditional [End Page 287] educational hierarchies and to offer students a multimodal form of communication. Performing Kamishibai is the result of meticulous and dedicated research and analysis and gives a unique perspective on the opportunities kamishibai offers in an educational environment.
McGowan clarifies in her introduction that her book is not a study of kamishibai performance in Japan but rather the implementation of the art form in the classroom. Throughout the book, she discusses the dominance of text-based learning and writing in the American school system. Her main argument is that text-based work is only one mode of communication. Kamishibai offers students multiple modes with which to communicate: drawing, oral storytelling, writing, reading, and performance.
The book's first chapter features an introduction to kamishibai's performance history. McGowan touches on several topics relevant to Japanese studies, including kamishibai's roots as street performance and its history with propaganda, the military, and the government before, during, and after World War II. In the context of the entire work, this chapter is quite brief. Rather than launching into a detailed history lesson, McGowan chooses to focus on the performative aspects of the oral storytelling medium. She discusses several different regional performance traditions; she later ties these traditions with her students' performances. Surprisingly, the chapter does not include a detailed analysis of any one performance of kamishibai in Japan. Such a discussion could have provided a foundation with which to compare and contrast students' performances. However, McGowan restates her overall goal: "Rather than attempt to engage in the debates around what might constitute 'authentic' or traditional performance in Japan, I am much more interested in discovering what potential kamishibai may have as it moves into formal and informal contexts of learning worldwide" (p. 25). Her focus is on the classroom, and it is there where she turns her analytical lens on the students' processes and performances.
The strongest and most compelling element of McGowan's work is her analysis of how specific students respond to the multimodal opportunities provided by kamishibai. She describes her experiences bringing the project into two very different classrooms. She dedicates several chapters to each classroom experience, first introducing the existing educational environment and then discussing the process of the kamishibai project. The accounts of the different and varied reactions from the teachers, administrators, and staff involved is a fascinating study in classroom rigidity and fluidity. While the primary focus of the overall study is on the students, the responses from the authority figures involved shed light on many of the inherent power structures and hierarchies in the American school system. [End Page 288]
McGowan details the different stages of each project, as she first introduces kamishibai to the students and then collaborates with them to develop their own stories and performances. She provides multiple case studies focusing on specific students, tracking the challenges and successes each face throughout the process. She focuses on both struggling and thriving students (especially in writing curricula) and describes how each handles the transition to a new form of expression and communication.
One of her key conclusions reveals that kamishibai embraces the "emerging" qualities of live performance. In a traditional text-based literacy program, there is a drive towards a final product. This product, once revised and edited, is seen as concrete once it reaches the final draft. McGowan argues that kamishibai stories constantly evolve and develop over the course of multiple performances. She includes comparisons between the students' performances at different points throughout the process, and how many of the students incorporate live feedback from their audiences into their next performances. The students gain confidence over time, and their interactions...