"Reading is a journey for those who can’t take the train."
With this first blog post we introduce the research project Reading Changes: Adolescents, Young Adult Literature and Literacy Practices in Mexico, a collaborative project between researchers in the School of Education, University of Glasgow and the Department of Literature, Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico City) and with the support of these universities and of The Children’s Literature Assembly NCTE.
As a starting point we take the earlier studies on young people reading in Mexico (1992 and 1996) undertaken by Evelyn Arizpe as part of her doctoral and postdoctoral work with research grants from the International Literacy Association and The Spencer Foundation (Arizpe 1994; 1997; 1999 y 2001). At that time, renowned young adult literature had begun to be translated into Spanish and these works became available along with books by authors from Spain; there was also an increasing national production supported by the publisher Fondo de Cultura Economica through it’s collection, A la Orilla del Viento (1991), as well as by the publishers Alfaguara México y Ediciones SM.
In Arizpe’s research, the response of secondary school students to a selection of these YA texts revealed, among other findings, the important fact that although few of them had ever finished reading an entire book, most of those participating in the study did finish the selected texts because they said the books were about young protagonists that reflected their interests and preoccupations.
Now, nearly 25 years later, the panorama for adolescent readers has greatly changed in terms of the production and promotion of both children’s and Young Adult literature, due in part to the success of this field in the publishing industry; to professional courses in this field and to the various official programmes of the Ministry of Education (SEP), such as, to name some recent ones: “Portal Jóvenes Lectores” and the “Programa Nacional de Lectura y Escritura”; the Colección de los Libros del Rincón, with the Bibliotecas Escolares y de Aula, as well as the publication of the guide of recommended books, Guía de libros recomendados para niños y jóvenes that appears since 2007, thanks to CONACULTA, the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana and IBBY México.
There are also the contribution and actions by CONACULTA (National Council for Culture and Arts): book festivals, the national programme of “Salas de lectura”; an increasing rich catalogue; various creating writing competitions; the organization of the annual International Children’s and Young Adult Book Fair FILIJ, as well as multiple regional and state fairs and the consolidation of the Guadalajara Book Fair. The context has also changed thanks to libraries and the activities of many librarians.
The offer of books for young people includes not only hybrid genres and more visual ones such as picturebooks and graphic novels, but also “postmodern” texts, with stylistic and thematic characteristics which are very different from the texts usually read in schools. These new texts demand “an active reader, an interpreter, a hermeneutic reader capable of decodifying that which is beyond what is said, that which sometimes evades us, like a buried treasure. In this way, reading becomes an exercise that leads to the dialogue among interpreters and young readers share their discoveries in different types of forums, either through social or school media.” (Guerrero Guadarrama 2012).
The panorama of reading has also been affected by other factors such as the presence of the Internet and all types of electronic gadgets such as tablets; the impact of the so-called “Harry Potter phenomenon” , as well as other communication media directed particularly at young people, such as films based on popular YA novels, creating an intermediality at the same time.
The question is, then, whether these publications and events have had an impact on the new generations of readers and how this is manifested.
To start answering this question, we will return to the theme of adolescent reading and we will carry out a pilot investigation, between September and December of 2014, on the changes in the reading practices in the past 25 years. The research team is led by Evelyn and Laura as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students of the Department of Literature of the Universidad Iberoamericana.
In the same way as in the original studies, we will go beyond the questions that are usually made in surveys on reading habits and will look in depth at reading practices in and out of school and at the way in which readers conceive books and the act of reading. The research will take into account the changes in the educational context as well as research on reading in Mexico between 1980 and 2013 approximately, as well as the most recent international studies in this area. We will also consult with, and interview, some of the people with the most experience in this field including publishers, teachers and librarians.
As well as returning to the methodology and the original results of the studies, we will include strategies successfully used in other research on reader response (Arizpe y Styles 2003/2004; Arizpe, Colomer y Martínez-Roldán 2014) and we will explore other qualitative methods during the reading workshops with the young people. The methodological framework includes hermeneutics and critical social constructivism and the empirical investigation will take place in two government secondary schools with students in their second or third year. Given the ethics issues related to the collection of data, we will use pseudonyms for the school and for participants. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Head teachers of both schools for their support as well as the Education Authorities for the State of Morelos.
The initial objective is to begin to create a picture of reading practices based on the initial results and then carry out a more extensive investigation and look in depth at the most relevant aspects, finding approaches that will enable teachers and other professionals to have alternative tools to find out what is happening with reading outside school and to motivate young people with specific strategies.
In the longer term, the objectives are to:
Throughout this blog we will describe out methods and add our observations. The members of the team will contribute to the blog in order to show not only different perspectives but also different analytical angles, given that each member of the team has experience and knowledge according to their particular theme of study and work.
We hope that the readers of this blog will follow us in this new research enterprise and that they will enrich it with their questions and comments.
Evelyn Arizpe y Laura Guerrero
Arizpe, E. (1994) Reading Response: The Reading Processes of Adolescent Reluctant Readers. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Cambridge.
Arizpe, E. (1997) Report for the Spencer Foundation , ‘Reading from a Gender Perspective: A Study of Mexican Student’s Responses to Literature’ (1995-1996)’.
Arizpe, E. (1999) Más o menos letrados: adolescentes y comunidades lectoras en la escuela secundaria en México, Lectura y vida 3 (20), 16-23.
Arizpe, E. (2001) “Responding to a “Conquistadora”: Readers Talk about Gender in Mexican Secondary Schools”, Gender and Education 13 (1), 25-37.
Arizpe, E. and Styles, M. (2003) Children Reading Pictures: Interpreting visual texts. London: Routledge.
Arizpe, E., Colomer, T. and Martínez-Roldán, C. (2014). Visual Journeys through Wordless Narratives: An international inquiry with immigrant children and The Arrival. Bloomsbury Academic.
Guerrero Guadarrama, L. (2011) La palabra y la creación. Promover literatura para niños y jóvenes. Seminario Nacional La formación de lectores como sustento de la igualdad.