The publication of children's literature has increased substantially and its incorporation into reading programmes has also increased significantly (Harris, 1992). At the same time, there has been a simultaneous interest in literature-based reading instruction.
Nonetheless, the importance and the usefulness of children's literature have been questioned. The nature of these attacks, however, seem to have less to do with the value of the instructional approaches and substantive materials than a preoccupation with preparing students for standardized tests and a stubborn adherence to traditional methods. Of particular concern is the use of children's literature as a means for teaching children how to decode information in order to perform better on standardized tests. This instructional method, without more, neglects the very purposes of literature-based reading instruction and renders the inclusion of children's literature in elementary reading programmes an almost tangential inclusion. The strict emphasis on decoding and on standardized testing, while of some relevance to literacy, is harming the very goals and usefulness of literature-based reading instruction.
This essay will argue that the inclusion of children's literature is of fundamental importance to effective reading programmes at the elementary school level. ...
As a preliminary matter, it is essential to identify the theoretical foundations of literature-based reading instruction. This is because the mere inclusion of literature in a reading programme, without a corresponding shift in instructional methods, may defeat or diminish the very purposes of the programme. Serafini argues that
in order for elementary teachers to implement a quality literature-based reading program and make a substantial shift in the way that children's literature is used in the curriculum, they must first make a parallel shift in the theoretical perspectives they use to ground their practice. Without this parallel shift, teachers may simply change the materials they use to teach reading, relegating children's literature to an instructional device in the service of higher test scores. In order to make a shift, however, one must first understand what the theoretical perspectives are and how they influence classroom practice (2003, np).
The modernist approach to reading and literacy is a major obstacle to more comprehensive literature-based reading goals. This approach begins with the premise that the meaning of a text is located solely within that text. This is an extraordinarily limited and strict perception of reading. In short, there is one true meaning in the text and children are required to decipher or decode this meaning from the text. This type of reading perspective excludes an interactive approach to the text; more troubling, perhaps, is the fact that it subordinates rather completely the context in which the text is examined and enjoyed. This type of approach is typically implemented as part of a reading skills programme. Teachers teach students how to decode true meanings, students