Literature, Literacy, Children's Literature, and Media


This page is an introduction to literacy, literature, lanaguage arts, media, and children's literature. It includes focus questions, definitions, models, and examples of how they relate to each other and to children. The different child's responses to them, and the education of children and young adults as they develop literacy and a love of literature.

It suggest ideas for the following focus questions:

Focus questions

  • What is literacy?
  • What is literature?
  • What is media?
  • What is media literacy?
  • What is children's literature?
  • What are the characteristic of literature and children's literature?
  • What are your thoughts about: literacy, literature, media, information (messages - stories), and the arts?
  • When you think about them related to children, does that narrow your vision?
  • When you think about them related to children in school, does that narrow your thoughts more?
  • How can we realize a stronger connection of literacy, literature, media, information (messages - stories), and the arts for our children in today's and tomorrow's schools?
  • How has children's literature changed over the years? See Children's literature & media timeline.


When people think about literature, literacy, media, information, and art they usually feel confident about their personal definitions for these ideas. Their understandings created from their experiences, which establish preferences related to those definitions based on beliefs and values they hold.

Usually we assume our definitions and beliefs are fairly similar to other people's. However, each person's are based on their unique personal experiences and when compared, they are found to vary. The variance being more pronounced as the understandings are probed to greater depths. This becomes apparent as we share ideas, particularly as educators when we, and other stake holders, begin to discuss what learners can do and what we hope they will know and learn with activities we provide for them to experience in a curriculum.

As educators we can recall situations where definitional differences cause misunderstandings with parents and other professional educators who make decisions selecting, planning, and implementing curriculum to facilitate literacy. These situations increase our awareness of the importance of making wise choices by first, selecting the most appropriate words, and second struggling to select an exactness of the definitional wording we choose that will best meet future needs of our students.

Knowing this we must also be aware that it is usually not the initial use of a word that raise concerns. The dictionary is filled with words and definitions; and most people do not actively engage in trying to rewrite those definitions. It is the use of a word in relation to the implementation of something, we believe and value, that may initiate conflict. Then it is important for individuals to explain how the use of words or phrases cause the conflict and use this awareness to try and built common understandings that can support everyone's values and maintain or change their beliefs to attain better results for our learners.

To avoid or reduce conflict in the first place, knowledgeable people unpack key elements of a curricular topic and explore definitions. As this is done it helps the stake holders recognize beliefs and values associated with key topics and how different definitions for topics change what is advocated for learners to know, do, and achieve. The selection of key words and definitions focuses decisions for planning and implementing potential learnings and experiences for learners to achieve consistent positive outcomes.

Therefore, it is important to carefully consider possible alternative views and what will best serve students' future needs. Considering consequences of choices within a wide range of possibilities for students will not only benefit learners directly, but will also help establish agreement and cohesiveness among all stake holders on defining what students should know, do, and the intended outcomes. It is good to consider standards, particularly national standards and mandated assessment standards. However, be careful to avoid ideological and dogmatic acceptance that narrows achievement in less beneficial ways.

Let's review definitions for literacy, multiple literacy, literature, language arts, media, art, and children's literature.


Literacy & multiple literacies


  1. The ability to read and write.
  2. The ability to understand and communicate in all forms of media.
  3. Being educated and scholarly.
  4. Literacy is the use of multiple channels to inquire, represent, and communicate, through an array of conceptual and stylistic elements. Carolyn L. Piazza

Other definitions extend literacy to different subjects.

Notice how the definitions expand, which leads to the idea of multiple literacies.

Multiple literacies are the complex amalgam of communicative channels, symbols, forms, and meanings inherent in oral and written language (verbal and nonverbal) as well as the arts-visual arts, music, dance, theater, and film (including television, video, and technology). Carolyn L. Piazza



Definition #1

Literature is the ability to read, write and comprehend.

Definition #2

Literature is the body of writing that exists because of inherent imaginative and artistic qualities.

Louise Rosenblatt Definition

Any piece of writing or pictorial narrative may potentially be considered literature. When a reader gets involved with the text and brings it to life, this transaction makes it literature.

Historical definition

Literature derives from the Latin - letters, which historically has related to reading and writing; fiction and nonfiction; and prose and poetry. However, over time other media was included among the text: images, charts, diagrams, maps, and in some cases the other media has replaced the text. For example picture books without text as well as multimedia with animation, sound, and no or limited text.

Therefore, to limit a definition of literature to textual material, is a restrictive definition, which doesn't seem appropriate today. Similarly to focus on reading and writing limits the use of textual documents to those two media (text and images).

However, even during ancient times or at the dawn of recording messages on pages, in scrolls, books, and other media. People used this media in ways beyond reading and writing. They undoubtedly read it orally, dictated information, and listened to others as they read or wrote. These experiences require literacy and literature. Similarly, public speaking, theater, and other performances, required knowing more than reading and writing scripts.

Language arts


Today literature may have been replaced in large part by language arts, which includes:

  1. Reading,
  2. Writing,
  3. Speaking,
  4. Listening,
  5. Viewing and
  6. Visually representing.

While the definition includes literature, media, and the arts; the time devoted to each of them is usually greater for those at the beginning of the list (reading and writing) and decreases for those toward the end of the list and dropping off more for literature, media, and the arts.

Also curriculum structured as language arts often focus more on a standardized fundamental skills based literacy, rather than on aesthetic value for different pieces of work and the artistic quality in general. While we shouldn't under value the necessity of being skilled in these six areas, it isn't appropriate curriculum be designed as if these skills are the only necessary outcomes for literacy.

It is important to include all of these areas when planning and implementing learning activities. It is what is expected and the reason education was created. Not to include them when experiencing quality literature in ways learners find interesting, worthwhile, and productive, is miseducation. More language arts information



Media is a medium or means for communication. Which can range from: words, phrases, stories, poems, speech, print, books, pictures, illustrations, maps, songs, recordings, advertising, social multimedia, animations, art, music, live actors, dancers, graphic novels, e-books, clothes, tapestries, sculpture, Internet pages and sites, videos, dramas, musicals, theatrical productions, concerts, and other creative artifacts including specific methods used to create the media: paper, pencil, ink, printers, piano, oil, canvas, violin, actors on a stage, and ...



Art is any thing that is aesthetically pleasing to the viewer and listener.

A transaction that communicates information through a piece of work, created by an artist or artists, and experienced by a viewer or listener, who responds to the idea or product to complete the transaction. Important to consider is the positive emotions essential for the transaction to result in an aesthetically pleasing viewer response. Beneficial responses must not only be attributed to the piece of art, but there must also be a critical analysis of the causes of responses. The viewer or listener, through repeated experiences, will develop wisdom to know that certain attributes or elements of the piece created a wonderfully desirable responses and will seek further understanding as to how different attributes or elements cause certain responses. The process of creating greater wisdom to understand and appreciate outstanding art is facilitated with teachers and mentors. Which is necessary to become literate and appreciate art. This requires outstanding teachers who can realize the benefits of a powerful productive education only achievable through multiple literacies. Art in an academic sense includes all media in the broad fields of literature, art, theater, communications, design, music, and any other media which communicates.


Putting it all together

It seems we should facilitate literacy in all areas with all media. However, there are times when it is helpful to focus in on a smaller part of literacy. For example if we are developing reading with young learners, then we would want to start with a concentration on children's literature as text supported with illustrations in different media. At other times we may want to focus on different genre: fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. However, we select experiences and learners select explorations and investigations we need to be prepared to be flexible if the situation calls for a big picture scope or a close up scope.

With this in mind let's look at some combinations as big pictures and some close up views of different ares and the possibilities for educators.

Literature and Literacy Model

Literature & Literacy Model

This model shows connections of media as a communicative event for learners and how they respond to it based on their life experiences and skills.

Let's compare it to a multimedia literacy model.

Multimedia literacy model

Click for larger image ...

Goals for multimedia literacy

  • Research
  • Analyze
  • Communicate information in a variety of media - textual, visual, digital 

Outcomes for multimedia literacy

  1. Understand the characteristics of media
    • All media messages are constructed. 
    • Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules. 
    • Different people experience the same media message differently. 
    • Media have embedded values and points of view. 
    • Most media are organized to gain profit and/or power.
  2. Actively inquires and thinks critically about all messages received and created. 
  3. Expands comprehension skills of reading and writing to include all forms of media in any possible setting. 
  4. Can build and reinforce skills necessary for learners of all ages and integrates them across all curricular areas and levels to communicate.
  5. Is informed, reflective and engaged participant in a democratic manner that is respectful and supportive of diverse points of view and values, that promote interest in current events and independently produced media essential to healthy productive lives.
  6. Recognizes that media are a part of culture and function as agents of socialization. Shared responsibility among members of the community to facilitate mutual understanding of the impact of media on individuals and on society.
  7. Affirms that people use their individual skills, beliefs and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages, reflect on the meaning of those messages, how those meanings relate to their values and clarify their perspectives on a healthy and productive life.


Multimedia as communicative events related to - Multiple forms of literacy: Teaching literacy and the arts. Piazza, Carolyn L. (1999).

Interactions with literature

A piece of literature, art, media, music, theater, or other communicative piece communicates to a viewer or listener, which results in a transaction. Transactions include:

  • A range of simple sounds represented by letters, speaking, images, ... ;
  • A range of emotions represented by lines, colors, sounds, animals, words, messages, movements, stories;
  • Combinations of all of these in the form of stories, prose, poems, songs, dances, plays, operas, symphonies, ... or any other media that communicates.

When a learner has a transfixing transaction with a piece of literature, it is most likely the piece of literature is a mix of media, genre, with solid use of story elements that communicates a quality transaction; making it quality literature.

Quality literature

Let's focus on quality literature!


Quality literature brings a tear to your eye,
keeps you up all night,
makes you ask:
How, could anyone think of that?
It makes you say,
That’s me. That’s the way I feel.
I wish I would have said that.
and most importantly...
It makes us understand and live better.

Robert D. Sweetland

Benefits of Quality Literature - reading & literacy

  • Gives Us Pleasure
  • Gives Us Information
  • Gives Us Understanding
  • Provides Us Vicarious Experiences
  • Even fiction, which is lies, can teach us great truths.

Introduces us to a writer-creator from whose inquiry communicates through words and different channels information about a subject, human nature, vision, life's meaning, and hope through which we gain insight of:

  • Human motives,
  • Human experiences,
  • Institutions of society,
  • That nature as a force influences us,
  • That life offers alternative choices, and the decisions we make effect our lives, society, and nature.

Children's Literature

Let's focus on children's literature! Since ...

Children's literature is the cornerstone of literature, the foundation that creates readership for all literature.

Most definitions of children's literature include a reference to text and a child's response to it.

For example:

Children's literature is the arrangement and structure of words, or children's response to those or combination of the arrangement of words and punctuation that creates a mood in children that entices them to read it. Purves and Monson

This definition includes most books and other media with words.

However, it does not include books with only pictures and other wordless media.

A more inclusive definition would include media beyond words.

Children's literature is any media or combination of media which communicates a message or story that causes children to respond in a positive manner.

While this does suggest the child's response is positive, it doesn't say anything about the quality of the literature, which can be a subclass of literature determined by personal reasoning.


Characteristics of children's literature and their analysis

Review and prepare to discuss which of these would you agree with and disagree with and consider examples.

Children's literature characteristics include.

  1. A simple and straightforward style, but not simplistic, or choppy, or flat, without flow and intrigue.
    • How simple is simple, but not simplistic?
  2. Depends on action to maintain interest.
    • Can there be action without action?
    • Are thoughts action? Are other character's inactions actions?
    • Are external events included in the narration, comments and other writing techniques action?
  3. Has characters that are children. Includes childhood events, actions, happenings.
    • Can it be children's literature if there aren't children?
    • Or if the main character isn't a child?
  4. Expresses a child’s point of view.
  5. Is optimistic. There is always hope, foreshadowing and other elements to raise spirits periodically.
  6. Tends toward fantasy and accepts fanciful ideas without major concern of reality. Wishful thinking is common.
  7. There is a tone of joy and innocence associated with children, agricultural life, closeness to nature and unquestionably reliable friends.
  8. Can have it both ways. Have your cake and eat it too. Dangerous world yet naive innocence children can roam through. Dangerous world out there and yet the comforts of home. Grow up and remain young. Complex yet simple.
  9. Is it or does it always have to be didactic and teach a lesson?
  10. Does it always have redeeming social qualities and a positive theme?
  11. Most have a universal theme of home is boring, but it is a better place to be than the dangerous world outside.
  12. Includes repetition. Often emphasizes what is important, repetition is a common element of traditional tales, folk tales, and fairy tales as well as for literary purposes by repeating words, phrases, situations, and patterns.
  13. Contrasts extremes. The good and the bad. The ideal and the practical, ideal family and the orphan, home and wilderness or deep dark forest with all kinds of evil.
  14. Group and family responsibility and concern for yourself.
  15. Can it be children's literature if it was written for adults and was adopted by children?

Educational issues related to these definitions

A narrow scope of literacy, which only defines literacy in the terms of reading and writing, often results in limiting student experiences to elements of reading and writing at the cost of eliminating sufficient activities to develop literacy in literature, media, and the arts.

Literature as a focus may widen the scope, but it depends if the scope is defined beyond reading and writing. However, even the broadest scope for a curriculum with a strong emphasis on literature may still limit students' education if media and the arts are not included.

A scope of media literacy can narrowly define media to advertising and television viewing, which may limit students' education without sufficient emphasis on reading, writing, listening, speaking, visualizing related to all forms of literature as well as the arts.

A broad scope of literacy with an emphasis on critical analysis of multiple forms of information communication (including reading, writing, listening, speaking, visualizing within literature, media, and the arts) with a desire to attain an aesthetic appreciation for these areas is needed to create life long learners, required to meet the future needs of today's students.

Therefore, it is imperative as professional educators, or other stake holders, that we are aware of how we define literacy, literature, media, the arts, and information, in relationship to the educational curricular and instructional decisions we make, which will affect the activities students participate in and hence their achievement.

For a librarian or media specialist a definition of children's literature is necessary for them to know what kinds of media the library or media center should purchase and include under their listings of children's literature: books, magazines, comic books, graphic novels, videos, tapes, maps, pictures, or musical recordings. Additionally a definition for each kind of media might include subcategories for the holdings and purchases which would need to be further described and categorized by genres to catalog the items obtained.

Similarly, selection committee have descriptions they use to know what different pieces are or are not eligible to be awarded prizes for the different kinds of medals and awards they give.


Whenever, educational issues are discussed there are usually references to literacy and the processes of reading and writing in relationship to life long learning. However, if students are going to achieve, more than a utilitarian use of reading and writing, then we must have them explore purposes for literacy beyond reading and writing and that is where literature, literacy, media, the arts, and related information are essential. We must insure, we broadly define these educational terms, but also include opportunities to focus in on more specific ideas as important elements of a bigger picture that is composed by the synergy of its parts.

Therefore, we must seriously inquiry and reflect on the consequences of our decisions both as big ideas and the importance of the elements they include.

Research has accumulated with respect to how children learn, how they generalize their learning from one idea to another, and how the process can be facilitated. The evidence suggests the brain functions as a net. As children learn they make connections from one idea to another and the more connected their ideas are the greater the likelihood of them being able to generalize information from a past experience to a new experience in a meaningful manner. A bigger net catches more fish.

The implication of this is: if we choose narrow definitions and hence narrow curricula, then there will be less connections and smaller nets result in less generalization. This implies curricula based on broader definitions would have a greater likelihood, for learners to experience in those curricula, to be more successful in the future. Therefore, a definition of literacy that includes multiple literacies results in learners who are better prepared for the future. Of course this hinges on the ability of teachers to identify relationships, identify important features and focus on their importance as elements of the whole, facilitate thinking skills, and habits of mind that enable students to make and use those connections.

Related to the idea of learning as connections and the idea everything we learn has to be connected to something we presently know is significant for consideration as to the kinds of experiences learners have before they come to school and while they are in school. One important consideration is media connections. Learners come to school having watched thousands of hours of television, video, and participating in video gaming. It would be plausible to use these media experiences as connecting points to continue to develop literacy into other media. Instead of going from text to media as many teachers do, maybe a sequence from media to text and eventually in both directions would be advantageous.

A last issue related to this discussion is the impact of emotions on learning. Again accumulating research and our wisdom of practice seems to support that both positive and negative feelings learners experience, will have a respective effect on their learning. Not only within their immediate learning environment in school, but their entire cultural experiences before, during, and after their interactions with a piece of literature, will continue to impact their experiences in ways that most people don't imagine.

I hope this motivates you to seriously reflect and inquire into your definitions for literature, literacy, media, the arts, related information and the values you have for them. As professional educators our choices will have serious consequences for our students. Those who understand these consequences will demonstrate it with the choices you make in the definitions you choose, the goals you set, how you select activities, facilitate instruction and learning, and the outcomes you choose to assess and evaluate.

See more on responses to literature and development of different kinds of responses from childhood to adolescence.


Home: Literacy, media, literature, children's literature, & language arts


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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