sábado, 7 de noviembre de 2015

Canadian Young Adult Readers’ responses to place, identity, and texts

Erin Spring’s guest entry for this blog emerged from her research on reading and young people in Canada. The influence of space and place has increasing been revealed as a significant factor in the way readers respond to texts but also in how reading fits into their lives and experiences. We believe Erin’s work will be of interest the readers of this blog given it has implications for understanding the relationship between identity and literacy practices of not only of adolescents and young adults who grow up in, and stay attached to, their community but also for those who have moved within their countries or migrated from one country to another.

Erin Spring is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for Child and Youth Studies at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta. She is currently working with First Nations readers who live on a reserve in southern Alberta. This blog post draws on her doctoral work, which she completed in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. Her most recent article can be found in the journal Children's Geographies (see References). 

As a Master’s student, studying Children’s Literature, I was asked to write a critical reading autobiography that considered the texts that had shaped my early reading identity. Through this process I realized that, as a young reader, the most influential texts in my experience were ones where the pages of the book could be made meaningful on a personal level, usually through identification with a character’s sense of place, or by perceiving the place as somewhere I had been, or as a reflection of the rural world that I lived and breathed in.

 As an interdisciplinary researcher, interested in the intersections between children’s geographies, children’s literature, and reader response, I wanted to understand the ways in which other young adult readers navigated transitions between places, and how (if at all) they perceived the role of place(s) — social and physical — within their lives.

For my doctoral project, I decided to work with sixteen— and seventeen-year old adolescent readers living in two geographically diverse regions of Canada: a rural town (renamed Lakeside) in Northern Ontario, and in a neighbourhood of Toronto (renamed Kirkville). I worked with the two cases separately; due to the geographical distance between the sites, the two groups never met. Prior to meeting as a group, I gave each participant two texts: Tim Wynne-Jones’ Blink and Caution (2011) and Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest (2010).


I chose these texts because they are intrinsically place-based. Blink and Caution gives an almost-accurate depiction of the streetscape of Toronto. I wondered what it would be like for my urban participants, living in Toronto, to read about a place that exists within their everyday world. Although Moon Over Manifest is set in rural Kansas, it is less specific in terms of detail; it could easily be read as small-town Ontario.  

While participants read the texts individually, in their spare time, they engaged in participant-led group discussions revolving around the chosen texts. Alongside these discussions, participants created a place-journal, containing visual and written responses, both to the text, and also to the ways in which they consider place to be influential within their own lives. Lastly, participants engaged in semi-structured interviews with myself where their place-journals prompted a discussion of their conceptualizations and experiences of place, inside and outside of the texts. Most importantly, I wanted to understand how and if the act of reading these place-based texts incited these participants to deliberate on the role of place within their own lives.

 My first significant finding was that my participants construed place in very different ways. Their reflections were ultimately shaped by previous life experiences. Liam, from Lakeside, was my only male participant. When asked, ‘where are you from?’, he explained, straight-faced, that he is ‘from his mother’s uterus’. Rather than focusing on a precise physical location, Liam continually reflected on the social ties that he has with his mother. People were more important than physical places. Sophie, also from Lakeside, had never moved in her life; she had only visited ‘the city’ once. Sophie construed home as the precise physical geography of her community: the streets, the main dock, the beach. When I met Sophie, she was seventeen, and was preparing to leave home to go to university. Sophie explained that leaving home would feel like she was being ‘ripped away’ from everything that she knew (Spring, 2015). Liam, on the other hand, had no desire to plant roots in geographical places, as long as he could maintain relationships with his family.

In Kirkville, two of my participants were migrants. Irina moved from Russia to Kirkville at age ten; she was still trying to navigate what being ‘Canadian’ meant. In our discussions, Irina aligned Russia with her idyllic childhood, where she played in the woods and explored with her grandfather. Her journal included a reflective piece about her life in the woods, and a map of her house in Russia in intricate detail.


Chloe had been living in Toronto for three years, having previously lived in Seoul. Toronto came to represent the freedom of adolescence, as she distanced herself from the Korean community, including her mother. Chloe considered herself to be a ‘Canadian’ and interestingly reflected on the ways in which she would be an outsider if she returned to Seoul, even though she spent the first thirteen years of her life there. Although Irina and Chloe shared the migrant experience, the process of moving from one place to another was drastically different for these individuals. In different ways, the act of reading these texts encouraged Irina and Chloe to reflect on their journeys between places. Talking about their experiences as migrants was facilitated by their readings of these texts.

These multiple constructions of place, outside of the texts, undoubtedly informed my participants’ readings of the research texts. Liam, for example, perceived Caution (Wynne-Jones’ protagonist) to be ‘from her mother’ rather than from a geographical place. He focused on the relationship between Blink and Caution, and their trajectories as friends, rather than on the physical journey these characters took across and between spaces. Irina, who resisted being an insider to Canada, reflected on Abilene’s arrival in Manifest, and her experience of being the ‘new girl’ at school. Calla, from Kirkville, had a very superficial understanding of the streetscape of the city, as a result of having been driven between places (school, ballet, etc.) by her parents. Her lack of independence in the city came up against Blink and Caution’s freedom in space. She found it difficult to follow their movements between and within places, as they had ‘more information’ than she did as a reader.

My research opened up multiple place distinctions that were not rooted in these geographies. In each case setting, my participants attended the same school, and lived in the same community, but they all saw these places differently. Their constructions depended on, for example, where they had previously lived or travelled; who they lived with; and where (and what) they imagined themselves leaving or staying for. My young adult participants were capable of extremely sophisticated, complex judgments on their own and fictional characters’ experiences of place. They articulated recognition of these connections within their own lives, and were open to and interested in the place experiences of others.

My research contributes to our knowledge of young adult readers and their constructions of place and identity, within and beyond the text.

Mackey, M., Nahachewsky, J., & Banser, J. (2008). Home page: translating scholarly discourses for young people. In M. Reimer (Ed.), Home words: discourses on children’s literature in Canada (pp. 195-225). Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

 Spring, E. (2015). “Where are you from?: locating the young adult self within and beyond the text”. Journal of Children’s Geographies, 1-16.

 Wynne-Jones, T. (2011). Blink and caution. Boston, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

 Vanderpool, C. (2010). Moon over manifest. New York City, New York: Random House.



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