Where are the childhoods in childhood literacy? An exploration in outer (school) space

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Research on childhood literacy has tended to idealize selected practices of a romanticized childhood; it portrays that childhood as providing the most relevant literacy resources and as launching 'the child’ most directly into school literacy success. Herein, I argue that the prominence of this assumed direct route is theoretically problematic; moreover, it overshadows the very crosscultural childhood qualities–and the particular, localized childhood symbols and practices–through which children construct written language as a useful medium. In order to make this argument, I draw on data collected in a yearlong ethnographic project in an urban primary school in the USA. In the project, I examined children’s appropriations of diverse cultural material for school composing. In the analysis, I used the productionof a text as the unit of analysis. Through studying these minimal units, I untangled the intertextual threads that linked the children’s present literacy activity to their experiences; for instance, as (pretend) radio singing stars and, beyond that, as radio consumers (or video watchers, superhero enactors, church goers, and so on). I focus on key events from two children’s case histories to illustrate how recontextualization processes (i.e. processes of transporting cultural material across social boundaries) undergirded developmental pathways into school literacy. Children’s illustrated potential to adapt cultural resources in response to changing conditions–to be playful–seems key, not only to furthering literacy development, but also to furthering sociocultural lives on a fragile, ever-changing planet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-39
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Early Childhood Literacy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • childhood cultures
  • literacy development
  • popular media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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