|Emer O’Sullivan and Dietmar Rösler
Kinder- und Jugendliteratur im Fremdsprachenunterricht
(Children’s and Young Adult Literature in Foreign Language Teaching)
Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 2013, 229 pp. ISBN 978-3-86057-279-9
Reviewer: Michael C. Prusse
It must seem self-evident to most readers of this journal that children’s and young adult literature (Ch&YAL) is of seminal importance in the English language classroom, in particular at primary and lower secondary level, and hence that the curricula in universities of teacher education ought to include at least an introduction to this field. Unfortunately, in this respect something seems to be wrong in Germany (and probably in Austria and Switzerland as well), as Emer O’Sullivan and Dietmar Rösler write in Kinder- und Jugendliteratur im Fremdsprachenunterricht (2013, p. 9). Most future teachers at German universities acquire a thorough grounding in general literature but not in Ch&YAL. In the other German-speaking countries, the situation is not much better, and if children’s literature is taught there, then it is usually in the form of optional modules or as a component of non-compulsory further education.
It is with this background in mind that O’Sullivan (Lüneburg University) and Rösler (Giessen University) have written their book. Their express intention is to acquaint student teachers and practising teachers with the potential benefits of using Ch&YAL in any foreign language (FL) classroom. In twelve chapters, they introduce their readers to the field, starting out with basic concepts of reading in a FL in the wake of the so-called PISA-shock that left German education authorities and teachers reeling because of the comparatively mediocre achievements of German pupils. O’Sullivan and Rösler pinpoint the problematic dichotomy of objective test construction, in other words standardized tests, and the primary goals of education as set down in many curricula (intercultural communicative ability and empathy), which are hardly congruent (pp. 17-18). [End of Page 110]
Next, the authors provide some essential information on Ch&YAL, arguing strongly for the use of literary texts in the classroom, and they delve into the debate on reading adapted easy ‘graded’ readers versus using original texts. Since they assume that their audience may be worried about the length of some texts – The Hunger Games trilogy would be a case in point – they even offer advice on classroom procedures, such as reading the whole text versus working with selected excerpts. They draw on a rich methodological repertoire to promote reading in the context of intercultural communicative competence and point out how Ch&YAL can be used in order to cover all the four skills, cultural studies and even to approach such challenging concepts as stereotypical perceptions of ‘the other’ (culture), which ought to be a permanent issue in a FL classroom.
In the course of arguing for Ch&YAL as an essential component of language teaching, they cover, for instance, such decisive questions as to what features make a text attractive for the FL classroom (pp. 50-51), the importance of teachers’ affinity with the texts they select (p. 55) and, just as relevant, comment on an essential skill for successful teachers, namely to choose the right text for each class (p. 56).
O’Sullivan and Rösler are an experienced team that have worked untiringly to promote the use of Ch&YAL in the FL classroom for many years (see O’Sullivan & Rösler, 2008). Moreover, they are well known as the co-authors of a series of eight genuinely hybrid bilingual books in German and English, stories in which the narrative frequently switches between the two languages, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. These books serve as stepping stones for young adults on the road to immersing themselves fully in an English text; an example is the title It could be worse – oder? (1984). Using such hybrid books in the FL classroom is also discussed in Kinder- und Jugendliteratur im Fremdsprachenunterricht (pp. 118-122).
This new book can be seen as the crowning achievement of a distinguished and extended effort to convince teachers of the benefits of reading Ch&YAL in the FL classroom. O’Sullivan and Rösler offer a significant contribution to a growing group of textbooks for teachers and student teachers. The distinctive feature of Kinder- und Jugendliteratur im Fremdsprachenunterricht is that it addresses readers across the FLs that are taught in German schools and, since German as a foreign language is Rösler’s [End of Page 111] discipline, this includes readers who teach German as a foreign language within and beyond Germany. This broad scope is both a strength and a weakness of the book. On the one hand, O’Sullivan and Rösler’s potential readership encompasses teachers and student teachers across languages and this interdisciplinary and multilingual approach is definitely to be welcomed, as they succeed in demonstrating how language learners of all ages and of any additional language can profit from perusing children’s and young adults’ texts in the language classroom. On the other hand, the authors themselves are aware of the fact that this restricts them to an exemplary procedure that will leave teachers who intend to use children’s or young adult literature in their particular FL classroom somewhat dissatisfied, since they will only get a limited amount of information that is geared to their specific needs. Nevertheless, by striving to select examples of tasks and activities around Ch&YAL in the FL classroom, the authors focus on books and ideas that can be easily transferred into various contexts and will mostly work across languages. One example is their suggestion to have students of German as a second or foreign language focus on stereotypes by reading and rewriting Christine Salzmann’s popular children’s book Die Englandreise (1995) and have the rat named Lisbeth (the protagonist of the story that has long dreamed of a journey to England and finally actually travels there) visit various countries. This can allow learners with different language backgrounds to adapt the narrative to their own context (pp. 167-176). The same arrangement also works with German learners of French, who can read Die Englandreise in their mother tongue and then transfer the concept to the writing of a French version in which the adventurous rat visits France. In addition, the authors’ approach establishes methods and techniques that will allow teachers to work on one of the most important goals of the communicative FL classroom, namely intercultural communicative competence.
As in previous articles (see O’Sullivan & Rösler, 2008), the authors argue that children’s and young adult literature fulfils a twin bridging function: on the one hand, very much like in the mother tongue, by providing a first step into literary reading by means of a text that is adequate for its audience; on the other, by providing learners with a sense of achievement after having read a complete text in the FL for the first time. This is a finding that is supported by feedback that many FL teachers receive from their students. [End of Page 112]
Another aspect of their book, the discussion of extensive reading (pp. 142-144) is, by contrast, very brief indeed; it focuses largely on Stephen Krashen and his theories as presented in The Power of Reading. Quite a substantial amount of the limited space dedicated to extensive reading (ER) is given to opponents to Krashen’s input theory. This makes rather short shrift of a topic that has resulted in widespread research, even within Germany, on the potential benefits of ER programmes (see Biebricher, 2008). Particularly when weaker learners are involved who often come from homes where reading is not supported as a pastime, ER programmes can successfully instil a love of reading, and open avenues for successful school careers. Here the authors might have displayed more of the enthusiasm that informs the other chapters of their book.
Their persistent enthusiasm does not inhibit them from acknowledging that for the most part, Ch&YAL is still alien to many FL teachers. With regard to French teachers and teacher educators, the authors quote Daniela Caspari, who provides a rather pessimistic assessment of the use of Ch&YAL in teaching French as a foreign language (p. 198). In the EFL classroom, the prospect is probably not quite so bleak: the very existence of the present new journal and the growing number of publications on this topic are encouraging signs. Thus, the volume under review may not be the first recommended port of call for students interested in Ch&YAL in an ELT context. Such teachers and student teachers are probably better served by directly consulting Bland (2013), Hesse (2009) or, with an eye to a survey of suitable texts, Kullmann (2008).
Overall, O’Sullivan and Rösler offer a remarkable contribution to the discussion of Ch&YAL in the FL classroom. Their book will certainly contribute to the various efforts to promote the use of this literature amongst language teachers; moreover, the practical suggestions it offers in its various chapters will appeal to teachers who wish to take their first steps in this field and will provide them with guidelines and ideas of benefit to their students. We can also hope that the institutional context in Germany will improve so that Ch&YAL becomes an indispensable part of teacher education programmes and that Department Chairs for this neglected area will be established in the FL departments at most universities in the German-speaking countries. [End of Page 113]
Biebricher, C. (2008). Lesen in der Fremdsprache: Eine Studie zu Effekten extensiven Lesens. Tübingen: Narr.
Bland, J. (2013). Children’s Literature and Learner Empowerment: Children and Teenagers in English Language Education. London: Bloomsbury.
Hesse, M. (2009). Teenage Fiction in the Active English Classroom. Stuttgart: Klett.
Krashen, S. D. (2004). The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Kullmann, T. (2008). Englische Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: Eine Einführung. Berlin: Erich Schmidt.
O’Sullivan, E., & Rösler, D. (1984). It could be worse – oder? Eine deutsch-englische Geschichte. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
O’Sullivan, E., & Rösler, D. (2008). Mit Kinder- und Jugendliteratur arbeiten: Warum und wie? Praxis Fremdsprachenunterricht, 6, 3-6.
Salzmann, C. (1995). Die Englandreise. Berlin: Altberliner Verlag.
Michael C. Prusse (PhD) is Professor of English Literature and Head of Vocational Teacher Education at the Zurich University of Teacher Education. He teaches courses in ELT methodology and English literature for prospective teachers at lower and upper secondary level. His research interests include postcolonial literature, the twentieth-century short story, and children’s and young adult literature. [End of Page 114]