Emergent literacy

Emergent literacy: Children’s books from 0 to 3. Ed. by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer. (Studies in written language and literacy 13.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. vi, 275. ISBN 9789027218087. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Colette van Kerckvoorde, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

It is generally accepted that children’s books have a significant impact on the development of a child’s literacy, and many studies have confirmed this, especially for children between the ages of four and six years. Nevertheless, literature and studies that deal exclusively with children up to three years old are virtually non-existent. This work aims to address this by specifically discussing research on early literacy and children’s books for readers under the age of three.

The first chapter, by the editor, Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, serves as a general introduction. She cites reasons why the scholarly study of emergent literacy has been neglected and convincingly argues that it is possible to investigate how language acquisition, cognitive development, and emergent literacy can be stimulated at a very young age by children’s books. Such research has been made possible by new techniques for studying what infants and toddlers know and also by advances in language acquisition research since the mid-1980s. Kümmerling-Meibauer suggests that a multimodal approach is best suited for research in emergent literacy. When confronted with a book, children develop visual literacy and learn the rules of ‘book behavior’, they enlarge their lexicon and their syntactic and pragmatic knowledge, and they develop a sense of metalinguistic awareness through rhymes and short, rhythmic verses. Finally, she turns to the various kinds of books available to the youngest readers and indicates a lack of consensus for classifying these books. However, she describes the general characteristics of these books and emphasizes that they, in spite of the frequent lack of written text, prepare children to understand progressive narratives at about three years of age.

This work contains revised versions of fourteen papers presented at a 2009 conference at the Picturebook Museum, Burg Wissen, in Troisdorf, Germany. All contributions are written by scholars and professionals from various backgrounds, demonstrating that a multidisciplinary approach is especially suited for the study of emergent literacy. The fourteen articles are organized into three parts: the first part deals with the premises of early literacy. Especially interesting is Annette Werner’s contribution entitled ‘Color perception in infants and young children’ in which the author describes the development of color vision in young children and the implications for the choice of colors in picture books. The second part examines several categories of children’s books that are available for this age group and highlights how and why each category contributes to the development of literacy. In the third part, we find several case studies. One of these papers, Virginia Lowe’s ‘Don’t tell me about it—just read it to me!’ is an account of the author’s approach to introducing her own children to books. Another interesting contribution deals with two girls’ bilingual language development and their relationship to books.

This work is a lively and interesting introduction to the topic of books for young children and their role in the development of literacy. This book is well written, and its contributions are accessible to novices in the field. I recommend this book to authors and publishers of children’s books and to those interested in developmental psychology.