Digital Literature for Children

Texts, Readers and Educational Practices

by Mireia Manresa (Volume editor) Neus Real (Volume editor)
©2016 Conference proceedings 234 Pages


This book is the result of a research project carried out by the research group GRETEL from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) on children’s and adolescents’ digital literary education. It offers some of the outcomes of this project and combines them with other contributions from internationally renowned authors to address the three pillars of digital literary reader training: the texts themselves, the responses they generate in children and adolescents and digital reading practices at home and at school.
This work is intended as a contribution to international research on digital literature for children and young adults and its impact on the teaching practices of literary education. Its main goals are to guide the inclusion of this training in classrooms and to investigate strategies for accessing multimedia, interactive and hypertextual messages and products that form a part of fictional products today.
The volume begins by contextualising electronic literary reading and specifying the new research framework of digital literature for children and adolescents. It then provides an overview of the relationships between the electronic medium and children and young adult production on the one hand, and of the digital works and their features on the other, to reflect on their potential for literary education. Subsequently, it tackles the effective contact of children and adolescents with this literature in order to determine what happens when different electronic works are made available to children readers without eliminating printed literature from their environment. Finally, the floor is given to two leading creators.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Contextualization And Theoretical Framework
  • The Reader (in) Digital. Forms of Reading on Screens
  • “Common Places in Children’s E-Lit”. A Journey through the Defining Spaces of Electronic Literature
  • Part II: Digital Literature For Children And Young Adults
  • The Impact of New Digital Media on Children’s and Young Adult Literature
  • The Past, Present and Future of Digital Picturebooks for Children
  • Electronic Literature for Children. Characterising Narrative Apps (2010-2014)
  • Part III: Readers And Digital Literature
  • Traditional Readers and Electronic Literature.:An Exploration of Perceptions and Readings of Digital Works
  • Digital Migrations: Exploratory Research on Children’s E-Lit Reading Profiles
  • Paper or Digital: A Comparative Reading with Teenagers of a Poe Short Story
  • Part IV: Educational Practices: Families And Schools
  • iPads, Emergent Readers and Families
  • Digital Literature in Early Childhood. Reading Experiences in Family and School Contexts
  • Reading Literature on Screen in a Classroom Library
  • Part V: Creating Digital Texts: Two Reflections
  • Inanimate Alice – How We Accidentally Created a Digital Story for Schools
  • Change of Direction
  • About the Authors
  • Series index

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Mireia MANRESA and Neus REAL

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Literacy is currently facing new demands that have arisen from the expansion of the languages and codes in cultural products. This means that integration into 21st century society requires the ability to interpret a reality that is no longer represented and expressed merely through the written word. In the virtual context, literature and reading socialisation circuits are spaces where the digitality and different codes that configure the messages clearly demand an increase in the reader’s interpretive skills within the framework of the digital literacy of the population. Although the new forms of electronic fiction present a notable specificity with regard to other digital products, they are completely located in this new cultural and communication paradigm which allows access to knowledge, interaction with others, the communication of one’s own ideas, access to information in a virtual and virtualised world and the interpretation of different semiotic systems in coexistence with the products on the analogue circuit.

Teachers are therefore required to investigate the most suitable strategies in order to provide support to the receiver with this type of reading and with a focus on educating citizens in the interpretation of the different codes that contribute to forming the construction of meaning in the texts. It is therefore necessary for schools to take into account the expansion of these fictional and artistic designs and to introduce effective ways of facilitating the access keys to the multimedia, interactive and hypertextual messages and products that exist in today’s different fictional products.

In light of these changes, we in the GRETEL research group at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain), which specialises in children’s literature and literary education, proposed to mark out a line of continuity based on our previous research to distinguish and analyse this new fictional product from the perspective of literary reader training. As this is the focal point of our ← 9 | 10 → research and training activities, our main objective was to explore the effects that digital literature can have on literary learning. More specifically we aimed to study the changes that digital literature has introduced in the production of fiction addressed to children and adolescents, in the reading reception of this population group and in the reading habits that usually take place in family and school situations. Digital Literature for Children: Texts, Readers and Educational Practices, as its title suggests, aims to provide a contribution to these three specific fields of knowledge using as a backdrop the potentials and limitations of digital literary reading and the associated practices thereof in relation to the reading of printed works.

In this research we focus specifically on app- or web-based literature that builds its meaning in a digital way by using the resources inherent to the electronic medium such as multimodality, interactivity and hypertextuality. This literature is referred to differently depending on the academic discipline, tradition and context. The most common terms are electronic literature (e-lit), digital literature, digital fiction and digital picturebooks. In order to be as unrestrictive and distinctive as possible regarding our object of study, in this work we use indistinctively the terms e-lit and digital literature. E-lit was formalised by the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO, the institution of reference for this new literature, albeit for an adult public) and is of constantly wider usage in children’s literature research. Digital literature, in turn, has been and still is of much generalised use in children’s literature studies. Hence its choice in the title of the book. Digital fiction would have been excessively general because it includes all types of digital fictional products (videogames among others) and does not necessarily have the specifically literary character required for our focus of study. On the contrary, digital picturebooks refers to the electronic transfer of a single type of analogue works (print picturebooks), and therefore it would have only included some of the products under analysis.

Emergent fields of study

In current societies the transformations in the uses and requirements of literacy brought about by reading in digital media have led to new lines of research in children’s digital literature and in its sociocultural scope in different fields (transformation of texts, reading and writing uses and practices, editorial market, etcetera). All of these contribute to the creation of a map to (re)situate the modifications and educational practices aimed at the digital training of the population and more specifically at the literary education of children and adolescents today.

With regard to literacy, The New Literacy Studies and literacy practices in context have defined the factors involved in the citizens’ processes ← 10 | 11 → of access to written culture within the framework of virtuality, as well as the skills of reading and text production that are activated through participation in a context configured by new technologies (Lankshear, and Nobel 2006; New London Group 1996; Pahl, and Rowsell 2005; Street 2003). As described by Alvermann (2004) or Cassany and Hernández (2012), the new native digital (Prensky 2001) generations are developing abilities that correspond to these forms of reading. The current immersion of children and adolescents in a technological environment leads to constant interaction on the net (through social networks, videogaming, personal blogging, etc.) and to fragmented reading with hyperlinks or to other emergent phenomena such as the collaborative writing of fiction stories. It may be considered, therefore, that these activities bring the reader closer to the narrative forms of children’s digital fiction that have begun to emerge and that there is an urgent requirement for educational reflection on the literary reading that is promoted within the school context.

Also, from the sociology of reading, mainly from the qualitative research paradigm point of view, results have been provided on the socialisation exchanges of literary reading on the Internet (Leveratto, and Leontsini 2008; Lluch 2012, 2014) and on the transformations introduced by virtuality in social reading practices. In this way, the profile of the new digital reader in society has been described as having more of a tendency to share the reading experience which is focused towards interactions that transfer the reader from having an amateur role to an expert role with regard to literary reading (Manresa, and Margallo 2013). In short, this framework describes the habitual reading routines and practices of current readers and shows the emergence of new ways of relating to the literary.

Literary theory and the studies on the characterisation of contemporary children’s literature also provide an essential basis for approaching literary education in the classroom. The evolution and typology of children’s fiction in the last decades, configured through the integration of text and image and described by international research (Arizpe, and Styles 2003; Colomer 1995, 2002, 2005, 2010; Kress 2005; Nikolajeva 2001; Silva-Díaz 2005), prefigured the composition of fiction through multimodal and digital resources. The variations introduced by e-lit in the current production panorama place us before the studies of literary theory, comparative literature and the advances of digital resources in literary fiction which are mostly focused on adult production (Borràs 2005; Hayles 2008; Koskimaa 2000); the most relevant of these are the approaches on the effects of hypertextuality (Ensslin 2007; Landow 2006), on interaction (Juul 2001; Moreno 2002; Ryan 2001, 2004) and on multimodality (Bolter, and Grusin 2000; Ryan 2004). ← 11 | 12 →

Despite all these contributions, only recently has there begun to appear some reflections and research on children’s digital literature that describe its current typology and characteristics and analyse in depth the variety of the existing corpus on the market in a clear effort to delimit the field of study and specify concepts (Al-Yaqout 2011; Al-Yaqout, and Nikolajeva 2015; Borràs 2012; Stichnothe 2014; Turrión 2013, 2014; Turrión, and Ramada 2014; Unsworth 2006; Yokota 2013). In summary, it has been stated that this is a type of literature that is still defining its creative limits – especially in the areas more foreign to the literary field such as the sequential and interactive potentiality of the digital environment –, and whose greatest achievements, especially regarding multimodality (with priority given to sound and movement), are still very dependent on the adjacent artistic disciplines. In parallel, this is a type of literature that situates the reader in a different place which requires a new type of interpretation and new keys of access to the literary product. To begin with the consideration of the transformations in interactive, hypertextual and multimodal products in relation to printed literature would seem to offer an efficient action framework for the precision of literary planning in the classroom.

These studies are complemented with explorations on reader strategies of comprehension, interpretation, reception and perception of digital and digitised texts. This field, explored from different research paradigms, is still very incipient with regard to literature. Most studies have investigated informative texts and have shown the differences between the reading of digital texts and the reading of printed texts, not merely in terms of comprehension skills and strategies but also in terms of reading habits and routines in general (Clark et al. 2008; Coiro 2007; Liu 2005). Specific research on the reception of digital literature has been mainly limited to works of textual fiction, that is to say e-books; it has been based on comparative studies on comprehension of printed and digital works, on case studies on the reading of stories using e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle, or on the focalisation of distinctive specific aspects of digital works such as, for example, hypertextuality.

Therefore we have studies based on diverse aspects that, from different methodological perspectives, offer important results on what happens when reading non-printed literature. For example, studies that show the comprehension differences between subjects who read the same narrative texts in both printed and digitised formats and show lower levels of understanding among the readers who read in digital format (Mangen, Walgermo, and Brønnick 2013). Or studies on the effects of the physical participation of the reader in digital reading such as the importance of the use of the fingers and hands for immersion in the fiction (Mangen 2008); on the impact of hypertextual reading in the reflexive mode which ← 12 | 13 → is characteristic of traditional literary reading (Miall, and Dobson 2001); on the ways of locating oneself in the temporality of fiction when it is not read in print (Mangen, Walgermo, and Brønnick 2013) or on the involvement possibilities when reading narrative works on electronic devices (Clark et al. 2008; Larson 2010). Nonetheless, we still know little of the reader’s experience regarding the specificity of e-lit.

Equally interesting are the studies situated within the framework of the mobilisation and integration of electronic fiction in school and family situations with adult facilitation. Noteworthy among these are the studies that have examined the impact of technologies on learning processes (Coll, Mauri, and Onrubia 2008; Krashen 1993) and more specifically those that have focused on the incorporation of digital devices in the classroom. For example, the observations of Hutchison, Beschorner and Schmidt-Crawford (2012), who explored their use in the learning of reading and writing over a period of three weeks; or the descriptive work by Roskos, Burstein and You (2012), that establishes a typology of the involvement of infant children when reading in this medium on an individual and shared basis; and also the comparison by Sheppard (2011), based on reading a work in printed format and on iPad in a classroom situation where a greater level of involvement is shown, with no parallel increase in school performance, together with a lower comprehension among weak readers, the evaluation of tablets as an element of distraction and the failure to involve the students in offline discussions.

All these works represent and point to significant advances in various lines. However, in parallel, they also call for more research in the field of the reading of digital fiction, on the response of children and adolescents to this new type of production and, more specifically, on the reading of digital literature in the school context – a key area for the training of citizens in information societies.

GRETEL’s research project on children’s digital literature

In order to contribute results in the field of e-lit for children and adolescents, between 2012 and 2015 the GRETEL research group carried out the R&D project “Literatura infantil y juvenil digital: producción, usos lectores, recepción y prácticas docentes” (Children’s digital literature: production, reading uses, reception and teaching practices).1 The project ← 13 | 14 → pursued three major objectives: to analyse the transformations produced in works by the multimodal forms of narration and by the incorporation of new resources for reader participation; to study the reception of e-lit in terms of motivation, comprehension, interpretation and the ability of emergent readers to evaluate metafictional and metaliterary aspects when engaged in the reading of fictional works, and to observe the impact of fictional reading with electronic devices on school and family reading situations.

With regard to the first of these objectives – the children and adolescent e-lit corpus – work was carried out on the establishment of the digital production typology addressed to children and adolescents and the characterisation of its contributions to the renovation of narrative elements, to the cooperation of languages and to receiver participation. In this framework, it was deemed necessary to first analyse the complex relationships between digital literature and the literature which has so far been addressed to children and adolescents, with focus on the visual, oral and, above all, interactive resources. More specifically, it seemed a matter of urgency to generate knowledge on the typology of children’s digital productions that are emerging on the market with special focus on analysing how each main element of the narration in digital format is constructed; i.e., studying how a chronological leap is transmitted or how narrative focalisation is represented through the moving image, sound and interactivity. It was also of interest to establish whether this produced changes in the fictional constructive tendencies and, therefore, if there were variations in the type of proposed fictional experience (the duration of the act of reading and the rhythm of reading, for example, seem to have particular significance in digital fiction).

The second focal point entailed case studies on reader reactions to digital literature by means of different research with students of between nine and fifteen years old and based on the analysis of the discourse content from literary discussions and conversations that were held with small groups of students. This analysis took into account the perception and evaluation of the digital characteristics of the proposed works as well as the interpretive response to each one and was based on the literary and digital aspects that construct literary fiction (Margallo 2013). If the reading of digitised texts on a screen supposes numerous changes with regard to reading skills and strategies in contrast to print reading, then the reading and interpreting of e-lit introduces new factors that transform it into a specific product, and it is therefore of interest to understand the reactions of children and adolescents to this product. Following previous research carried out by our group on the reading response to picturebooks (Colomer, and Fittipaldi eds. 2012), we asked ourselves what interpretive strategies are used by readers when reading digital works, what reading ← 14 | 15 → modes are activated and what perception they have of the digital resources that appear in works of fiction.

The third objective refers to the exploration of the effects that the introduction of digital literature into independent reading situations has on student reading practices, preferences and evaluations – all of which are issues that affect decisions on the advisability of integrating this type of literature into the classroom and on the didactic reconsideration of current literary education. Specifically, we observed the effects of the introduction of touchscreen tablets, containing specific e-lit selections, into school and family independent reading practice. The main contexts in which children and adolescents encounter works of digital fiction, in school and in the home, provide favourable settings for the exploration of the reading uses that are activated and produced when encounters with these devices and digital literature take place. In this case these were ethnographic case studies in a natural classroom library situation or in family shared reading situations with children of between two and three years old and children of between eleven and twelve years old on the one hand, and children of up to six years old on the other.

Although the results of these studies will be widely covered in the chapters of this book, we must highlight some of the educational implications that can be deduced from this work as a whole. On the one hand there is the logic and necessity to integrate e-lit into formal literary education in order to respond to the demands of a highly technologised society where literary and digital products are two key aspects for the future of children and adolescents. On the other hand, there is the importance of teaching facilitation for the introduction of the works into quality selections and the incorporation of the analysis and specific evaluation of multimodal resources into literary education. Finally, there is the fact that the continuity of experience and teaching facilitation promote more sophisticated, elaborate analyses on the fictional aspects and artistic resources of digital works.

This book brings together the results of these studies on digital literature for children and its impact on the training of the literary reader. The corresponding previews were initially presented in the framework of the International Symposium “Electronic literature: texts, readers and teaching practices”, which was organised by the GRETEL research group and held in October last year in Barcelona.2 They are presented here in their new, extended and revised versions. Also included is the collaboration from researchers and authors of international renown who were invited to the symposium for their trajectory and influence in ← 15 | 16 → this field, such as Laura Borràs, Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, Junko Yokota, Kate Pullinger and Arnal Ballester.

This volume


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Electronic Literature Digital Literature for Children Children's Literature Literary Apps Early Childhood Literary Education Primary Education, Secondary Education, Families, Readers, Educational Practices
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 234 pp., 8 ill., 5 tables

Biographical notes

Mireia Manresa (Volume editor) Neus Real (Volume editor)

Mireia Manresa is a part-time lecturer in the Department of Language, Literature and Social Sciences Education at the UAB, a secondary education teacher and an e-learning specialist. Neus Real is a full-time lecturer in the Department of Language, Literature and Social Sciences Education at the UAB and a specialist in women's fiction of the 20th century.


Title: Digital Literature for Children