ARTISTIC VERBALIZATION AND VISUALIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE IN NON-FICTION CHILDREN`S LITERATURE
Modern Ukrainian bibliology views non-fiction children’s literature in the context of two independent publishing and literary complexes. On the one hand, it is an important component of children’s literature (a type of literature singled out according to age characteristics of the readership), and on the other hand, it is a peculiar typological element of the popular science literature (a type of literature singled out according to the form of presentation of scientific material). As a result of its dichotomous nature, the non-fiction children’s book is ruled by the laws of internal development of both the types of literature mentioned.
Along with the terms “non-fiction children’s book” (“the scientific non-fiction children’s book”), representatives of the modern publishing theory and practice also use the term “informative and cognitive book for children”. When researching the phenomenon of literature for children, as well as in the teaching practice, according to Ukrainian and Russian book science traditions, we would rather stick to the second variant (Ohar 2002; 2003: 556-563; 2004: 92-100). It is more precise in reflecting the essence of the social and functional destination of the literature subtype analyzed. Its functions are the following: to help the young reader learns informative material and to activate informative processes characteristic of the child’s growing up and socialization.1 Besides, the determinant “informative” implies that it stands for the scientific informative literature for children.
Such characteristics of a quality non-fiction children’s book as “the presence effect”, the illusion of direct cognition (cognition through personal attitude to the depicted things), emotional coloring, appeal to co-authorship, empathy, close interrelation between logical and theoretical elements, on the one hand, and imagery and emotional elements, on the other hand, have enormous influence on all the spheres of the young readers’ inner world, their mind, emotions, will, etc.
The non-fiction children’s book has several subtypes, such as scientific and artistic, educational, inquiry, practical and developing. Each of these subtypes has its own informative aims and correlates with a specific informative field.
Scientific belles-lettres (scientific and artistic book, scientific fiction) correlates with the narrative field. It uses the scope of the natural language to expose certain logical notions as well as narrative strategies of the artistic text. It is guided by moral and aesthetic values of the surrounding world. Therefore, scientific belles-lettres teaches children to compare facts and to make independent conclusions. It helps the young reader develop creative approach to any problem.
Educational and inquiry books correlate with the field of evidential judgments. Unlike scientific belles-lettres, educational literature uses logical and conceptual structures as a basis for popularization rather than artistic and imagery ones. In such books, various phenomena are interpreted mostly through scientific evidence and arguments. These are well-known facts and examples from the child’s everyday life that provide grounds for reasoning.
Scientific belles-lettres is meant primarily for the youngest readers, while educational literature is intended for teenagers and senior pupils. The task of scientific belles-lettres is to stimulate children’s research abilities, their desire to cognize, to learn and to self-develop. Whereas educational literature gets young people used to work with various sources of information, it provides them with the rudiments of knowledge in different spheres.
Finally, practical and developing literature correlates with the empiric field. Books of this type help children organize their leisure time, realize their hobbies and develop a range of skills and attainments. These are such as: 1) manual and practical skills (drawing, designing, craftsmanship, etc); 2) reading and writing skills (ABC books, primers, readers, ABC games, word pyramids, grammar quizzes, spelling and morphemes dictionaries for children, illustrated dictionaries, etc); 3) mathematic and logical skills (intellectual games, encyclopedias of developing games, games collections, albums, etc); 4) creative skills, imagination, aesthetic sphere; 5) memory, attention and sensory skills.
Taking into account all the above mentioned, non-fiction children’s literature may be viewed as a kind of literary and publishing complex with its components complementing each other in the process of juvenile education and self-education (Tushevskaja 1996: 106-108).
All the three subtypes of the non-fiction children’s book have the same aim - to tell children in an understandable “language” about outward things, about the world, about ties between individual phenomena and notions, as well as to introduce rudimentary terms of school subjects, to reveal their essence and to teach how to use them in educational and cognitive activity. Each of these subtypes achieves these objectives using certain sets of means of verbalization and visualization of knowledge and, in more general terms, means of adaptation and popularization of knowledge.
Let us consider them in greater detail. Means of verbalization (or textual means) and means of visualization of knowledge (or illustrative, graphic means) may be subdivided into universal and specific ones.
Universal means are the ones that can be used virtually in all non-fiction children’s books regardless of their type, target audience or topic (for example, interesting attracting headings, thrilling introduction, vivid, figurative narration, etc). Whereas the sphere of usage of specific means is determined by the book type, its topic and readers’ age (for example, in editions for teenagers certain notions can be explained through combined ostensive definition, i.e. illustration of an object (its picture) can be followed by conventional illustration (a simple scheme of its interior arrangement).
According to their functions, popularization means (techniques) can be conventionally subdivided into:
1) means (techniques) which help achieve the maximum of specificity and consistency of narration: argumentation of the correct statement by refuting incorrect or imprecise ones; going through a number of “cause-and-effect” logical operations so as to bring the young reader to the correct conclusions; summarizing of the main points after each textual information block (a paragraph, a syntactic complex, a chapter, a part or a text) etc.;2) means (techniques) which add to the simplicity of narration:
4) means (techniques) that contribute to visualization of the text, or to, soto say, “materialization” of the content, which, taking into account the child’s inclination to concrete and logical thinking, is very important.
The adaptation techniques described work on all the levels of children’s non-fiction literature, i.e. on the level of content, composition, illustration and design, as well as on factual, lingual and stylistic levels.
Realization of the popularization strategy on the content level begins with the correct choice of the topic for a scientific non-fiction work. The topic chosen for popularization is supposed to be both useful for children from the educational point of view and interesting for them from the communicative point of view. At the same time, we should always bear in mind that children’s information needs, tastes and interests are extremely dynamic; they are “growing up”. If readers are interested in the topic, the publication will be a success and will manage to implement its popularization aims.
It is well known that the topic of any writing is formulated in its title as well as in headings. In scientific non-fiction editions, especially in those for children, it is recommended that verbal signs be specific, semantically “transparent”, correctly oriented. Among them, there are short (preferably one-word) nominative constructions of subjective or objective nature that clearly direct the child towards the subject of narration, i.e. Taste, Color, In the Park, ABC, For Children about the Nature; nominative constructions with the addressee indicated, i.e. For Kids about Kids, For the Little Prodigy, For the Genius in Panties; predicative inciting constructions, i.e. Let’s Read, Let’s Have Fun, Let’s Draw, Paint It, Find Differences, Read and Tell; interrogative constructions, i.e. Where was the First Library Built?, How can you Differentiate Colors?, Who Lives in the Blue Sea?, exclamatory ones, i.e. Holydays!, vocatives, i.e. Hello, Kids!, etc. Adjectives and participles introduced into titles usually belong to the semantic field of easiness, lightness or game, i.e. Easy Math, Exciting Physics, Interesting Chemistry, etc.
The older the target reader is the more syntactically complex and figurative (often humorous) headings become. It is desirable, though, that metaphoric titles be followed be explanatory subtitles and excerpts which would decode figurative semantics of the title and reveal some of the content of the following chapter. For instance, an article in a non-fiction magazine for teenagers entitled Poltava2 Pentagon begins with a short explanation: It should be indicated that pentagon in this article does not refer to the USA military department, it stands for the star-like ball constructed by Mykola Yaremenko from Poltava. He’ll tell you how you can make it yourselves...
There are also a number of popularization techniques on the level of composition that facilitate understanding. This refers both to techniques characteristic of any scientific non-fiction edition regardless of the target audience age (references, notes, commentaries, introductory elements, etc) and to those peculiar to children’s non-fiction editions only.
It is a characteristic of the children’s non-fiction literature to organize the text in mini-blocks “question-answer”. Dialogical composition imitates ingenuous live communication with the person (be that the author, the moderator, a grown-up friend, parent, etc.) who is supposed to know all the answers to the little “inquisitors’” questions “who?”, “what?”, “where?”, “when?” and “why?”. Most of encyclopedias for children are compiled under this principle: a register notion is explained through a number of successive answers on its various aspects.
Another very effective popularization technique in the children’s non-fiction literature is alteration of fragments saturated with information with so-called relaxation zones. It gives the young reader a chance to relax and to get rid of mental tension. Frequency of “relaxation zones” in a text depends on the age of readers, their educational level, general erudition and their familiarity with the subject popularized. Role of these “zones” may be performed by various lyrical digressions, songs, poems, games, entertainment blocks, fancy graphic illustrations, etc.
A peculiar characteristic of books for children is that they are always anecdotal, be it fiction or non-fiction books. In fact, this is the way scientific belles-lettres (scientific fiction) is constructed, which is one of the most popular types of children’s non-fiction literature, where reliable information and scientific factual material is presented through various artistic means, such as plot, fictional characters or emotional and figurative language (Carter 1999). Such compositional means as thrilling dynamic plot, interesting characters (very often these are personified inanimate objects, plants, animals or fabulous creatures), the key narrative voice, action, etc., help the child understand and master the informative material: “We, plates, are not considered to be something special... Nevertheless, we also have our own history. Our great-great-grandmothers, the first plates, appeared 600 years ago in France. They were of square shape.” And this is told by a narrator-mediator: “I hope you enjoyed the plates’ story. Now you know that they feel offended (let’s speak quietly about that for them not to hear) when we do not pay attention to them...”
Even in reference, literature for children meant for through rather than for selective reading as it is with the literature for adults the material is set forth according to the narrative strategy. Most encyclopedias for children are compiled under the logically motivated thesaurus principle rather than under random one from the point of view of logic alphabetical principle. It helps to shape systematic conception of the knowledge and of the outward things.
Another characteristic of non-fiction literature for children is wide usage of means of actual accompaniment of scientific material under headings Think it Over, Remember, It is Interesting to Learn, Pay Attention, etc., which are built in the central narrative text and function independently. These compositional elements keep attention of the young reader and contribute to realization of the main functions of understanding in the process of cognition such as informative, regulatory, moral and evaluative.
Just as important is to make sure that when working with the book (reading it or listening to somebody’s reading) the child does not get bored and tired of monotony, since in such cases children, as a rule, very soon get distracted from the content, do not understand what the book is about and do not comprehend the informative material. One of the most effective methods to keep the readers’ attention and to stimulate younger children into informative activity is the didactic game (Harchenko 2001: 4-7).
Psychologists and educators consider that the game for children of preschool age is the main way to experience the world and themselves (Erickson 2002). The game develops children’s mental, creative and other abilities, moulds their will and emotions and generates the desire and need to communicate. Preschool childhood is inseparably linked with game. Through its plots and roles, children discover human behavioral norms, their societal functions and realize the need to pattern their behavior on them. Children’s games, whatever the form, develop imagination and symbolic function of thinking (the ability to replace certain objects with similar ones), which in its turn prepares the basis for mastering symbolic substitutions in the future educational activity, such as literal expression of figures, formulae, etc.
Children of almost all the age groups like to play games; it is only content and form that gets more complex the older the child is. Game components in children’s non-fiction literature for can be verbalized (i.e. word pyramids, rebuses puzzles, labyrinth-sentences, poems-pictures, poems-puzzles, etc.); there can be a game proper built-in the text; or otherwise there may be a game as an element of composition.
Didactic games are used to optimize exposition, to enhance the effect of memorizing and to turn studying into an exciting process. They are aimed at complex development of all the informative abilities, in particular mental, logical, creative, as well as reading, writing and speaking skills, thinking and keenness of wit, phonematic ear, attention, touch and tactile reactions.
Means of popularization that “work” on the factual level of children’s non-fiction literature include peculiar forms of presentation of facts in the text, very often ostensive ones, since illustrations enable children who are incapable of abstract thinking to draw conclusions, compare and contrast described phenomena.
Well-chosen narrative techniques also add to better presentation of new facts. One of such techniques is concretization of a notion (mostly through a metaphor) so that the young reader can picture it: In cities of tropical countries you may often see the Tree of Travelers. This plant, which comes from Madagascar, is kin of Banana. Just like Banana, it is not a tree in reality but a kind of grass, though a very peculiar one... Why was it called the Tree of Travelers? The matter is that its leafstalks hold water, which can slake your thirst. All you need to do is to pierce the petiole and gather the water.
The excerpt cited further on might serve as an example of lucid explanation of the abstract mathematical concept of “geometric series” by appealing to the child’s experience, which is concrete and because of this easy to understand.
Very often, it is impossible to do without figures in informative and cognitive texts since it is complicated to explain the essence of certain phenomena and scientific concepts. In such cases, it is very important that this factual material be presented as clearly as possible. The following text may serve as an example of an effective technique that can help the child understand the essence of figures in terms of whether it is a lot or not.
Means of explanation of special knowledge in the children’s non-fiction book on the factual level play a very important role in visualization of this knowledge. Of course, classical genetic definitions like the ones used in terminological comprehensive dictionaries will not work for children. It is highly recommended to avoid strict academic definitions even in school textbooks. It is desirable that authors resort to adopted forms of introduction of terms into the text: 1) through comparison with well-known phenomena; 2) adverting to the history of the term, which can clarify scientific essence of a notion better than any complicated explanations (etymological reference); 3) by presenting a borrowed term along with a native language one, which usually has transparent inner form and that is why is easier to understand, or along with a synonym from the child’s daily vocabulary; 4) through metaphoric definition, etc.
Another way to ensure successful popularization of special knowledge in children’s non-fiction books is to use proper lingual and stylistic means.
When working on the language of any texts for children special attention should be paid to the lexical basis. The author should use the vocabulary that would correspond to the lexicon, lingual and life experience of the child of a certain age. Lexical layer of children’s non-fiction editions should cover all the aspects of education. Vocabulary of “the first books” is supposed to function as a peculiar communicative code of the language learnt; it ought to fix results of the previous oral lingual course. In addition, the text of children’s literature in the aspect of developing education should work on enrichment of the child’s vocabulary.
It is important that the text of editions for children sticks to the standard layer of the language and be void of dialectal words, jargonisms, substandard lexical units, professionalisms, etc. One should also avoid borrowings, since native language words are usually much more understandable. Clarity and lucidity may be reached either due to usage of monosemantic words or polysemantic ones in their direct meaning.
These are expressive and emotional terms that make the text bright and captivating. According to the demand of concreteness in the children’s non-fiction literature, the chain of concretization very often involves words denoting images. Simplicity is an important but not the only feature of a popular text for children.
Skillful verbalization of knowledge calls for the ability to tell about the science in vivid language, using figurative vocabulary and stylistic means, i.e. tropes and figures (epithets, metaphors, personifications, allegories, idioms, vocatives, repetitions, etc). In a neutral context, these means can draw readers’ attention and influence them.
Personification, which is often used in children’s non-fiction literature, enables the author to create bright, vivid images that help the reader learn the material better:
For instance, such a popular trope as the metaphor helps concretize notions described and at the same time brings aesthetic value to the text. Thanks to the metaphor children come to understanding of an unknown notion by themselves through a kind of a “flash”. That is why they remember it longer and better. Striking comparisons also add to the pleasure of reading children’s non-fiction literature.
Peculiarities of the popular exposition also affect the morphological level of a text. Say unlike the scientific text, which is static, abstract and impersonal, the scientific and popular style often resorts to techniques of intimization of the language by narrating from the first person singular. Distinctive author’s “I” and direct addressing the character contributes a lot to emotionality.
An editorial in children’s non-fiction magazine on natural history under a lyrical heading Declaration of Love starts with a poetic appeal to the reader: ‘My friend! We offer our friendship to those who can hear the fervent voice of Earth, who enjoy the greatest gift of Life, the tender light of Sun. Please write (to the magazine - E. O.) everybody who is interested what Stars are whispering about... Let this bouquet of love and admiration with nature, made from your letters to our magazine, be enriched with new pure voices of those who can wonder at the dew necklace on grass in the morning... We hope to meet you next time on the pages of our magazine’. The poetic form of communication with the young reader enables editors to appeal both to the child’s rational thoughts and through imagination to the emotional sphere.
Personal approach in selection and exposition of material is an integral part of the best children’s non-fiction books and it is introduced on purpose. This aim can be reached only by using all the lexical, idiomatic, morphological and syntactic variety of lingual means.
By delivering special (scientific) information to children the author turns it into a message that is understandable for them. This transformation is the result of bringing special terms into accord with knowledge of the young reader. In some cases, it is achieved by replacement of scientific terms with general vocabulary or otherwise by their explanation with the “variegated” words, including emotional and expressive ones. Correlation between terms, on the one hand, and neutral and colloquial words, on the other hand, is defined by the age of the target audience, their educational level and intensity of their interest in the subject of popularization.
Thus, the system of stylistic verbal and syntactic means of children’s non-fiction editions brings together such opposing stylistic features as objectivity and subjectivity, logicality and emotionality, solemnity and colloquialism. The older the reader is the more evident figurativeness of adopted explanation of special knowledge becomes, to put it otherwise; verbalization of knowledge acquires vivid artistic features.
Illustrational and design forms of visualization of knowledge are widely used along with verbal ones.
Rich illustrations of both fiction and non-fiction for children had been considered its distinctive feature until there appeared the publishing phenomenon of Harry Potter. The fact that children swallow up with enthusiasm over 700 pages of a non-illustrated text (!) called into question this ‘axiom’. We should not forget, though, that the little wizard as well as all the characters of the saga was visualized and fixed in children’s minds by the powerful cinema industry, which took hold of the function of visualization of Joanne Rowling’s stories.
The spectrum of functions of illustrations in non-fiction is much wider than in fiction. Very often they can replace long and complicated verbal descriptions, make explanations more understandable and narration shorter or play role of ostensive definition of special terms and notions. Pictures can explain, illustrate individual fragments of textual information, point out the most important issues, widen and deepen the child’s knowledge of the world on the visual level, develop keenness of wit and of observation, etc.
Among the illustrative techniques of popularization used in children’s non-fiction literature, we would like to mention some specific ones, designed exclusively for children’s perception.
This is first of all combining in one edition, on one centerfold or even on one page both artistic and scientific visual means.
Very often illustrations with pronounced informative functions are purposely presented in an artistic manner (for instance, as grotesque, cartoon, etc.). It makes them aesthetically close and understandable to the young reader. Prevalence of grotesque illustrations is a result of the general amusing tone of the most of children’s books. Witty, funny and humorous (but not caricature!) depiction of people, objects and phenomena evoke joyful mood, which is an important prerequisite to learning and memorizing of new information through the book (Writing 1997).
This is exactly the principle of full visualization that comprehensive and translation dictionaries for young learners are based on. The main sense load here falls on the illustration.
Lessons aimed at acquainting with the animal world are better remembered, if the child is “traveling” around it with pictured characters similar to animated ones like in commixes, which are well-known as a pictorial action genre.
Another interesting technique of illustration of non-fiction is accompaniment of heterogeneous texts (riddles, sermons, quotations, etc) with heterogeneous pictures (stylized, natural, ironic, etc) and prints of different size, type, color and saturation. This technique is especially effective due to the complex compositional and graphical organization (change of rhythm, size, contrasting real and fantastic, specific and abstract images, etc.). Just as effective is the usage of various materials. For example, along with traditional paper and cardboard, one may use synthetic, plastic or imitating materials (according to the “Touch and Feel” principle).
In an image-bearing illustration designed for the teenage recipient, one may use abstract illustrations.
Introduction of applied elements (‘glue it’, ‘paint it’, ‘cut it out’, ‘construct it’, etc.) contributes to stirring up of the process of learning. Such techniques imitate the game, entertaining studying, and by so doing they develop several skills at once; they keep the child’s attention and turn the process of reading into a multifunctional work with the book.
The peculiar, non-standard construction of children’s books is aimed at realization of this difficult task. Not only is it necessary for a simple, mechanistic transformation of a book into a toy, as it is often considered, or for realization of children’s psychological need to play. It also has other very important functions. The toy-book is a kind of an incentive, a ‘smart’ way to engage children into creativity and thinking, to cultivate their mental and practical skills. Non-standard forms of children’s editions act like specific semiotic signs; they make the book more informative and enhance its functionality.
Children are often dissatisfied with the traditional variant of books; they are often trying to draw something there or to paint illustrations. It is obvious that special books for painting, cutting out and playing - the books that actively involve the child as a co-author - have been created in response to this need. Children’s books are so various owing to the fact that their spectrum of objectives is extremely wide. Not only do they teach to identify letters, figures and signs, to make up words and sentences out of them, which is to say to read, but also they develop artistic skills (making compositions or selecting colors) and manual expertise (usage of the pencil, brush, scissors, glue, etc.).
Richness in images of book architecture and its construction has great influence on the child, who thinks mostly in forms, colors, sounds, senses and emotions. It should also be coupled with the high quality of all the typical book design elements, such as format, model, cover, margins size, block thickness, etc.
The new impetus to the development of children’s non-fiction publishing was given by the creation of electronic editions of children’s non-fiction books (mostly reference literature) or simultaneous publication of electronic and paper editions of one work that complement each other (Kovalenko, Petrova 2002).
As we see, adaptation of special information in children’s non-fiction book can be carried out in different ways, through various logical and compositional, factual, lingual and stylistic, illustrational and design techniques. Since, unlike educational literature, the non-fiction one is intended for voluntary reading, its popularization ought to be based on the communicative strategy of ‘temptation’. It should aim both at maximum of simplicity and clarity of explanation of special knowledge and at keeping young readers’ attention and getting them interested.
1. In this work we use the term, which is often employed by Western scholars. [back]
2. Ukrainian city. [back]
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© Emilya Ohar