Children’s voices in non-fiction books: from the adult specialist to the child reader

Célia Abicalil Belmiro and Marcus Rodrigues Martins

This article investigates the numerous possibilities of structuring nonfiction texts in books for children. In these works, adult voices are transposed into children’s desires in the pursuit of knowledge. In many books, information is organized to fit school transmission model. Adult voices stand out in order to disseminate information, organize subject content and indicate ways of apprehending knowledge, although they often circulate in non-school spaces such as libraries and homes. On the other hand, many proposals have not been limited to genre scientific dissemination stricto sensu, and are renewed in their textual structures, through the aesthetic appropriation of images and the literary use of verbal language. Consequently, this amplification of languages ​​entails a variety of hybrid forms in which information circulates and requires the participation of the infant reader in the production of meanings. Postures and understandings regarding nonfiction book are relativized, so that the hierarchical construction of discourse, that is, of the adult who imposes modes of seeing and constructing knowledge, is revised and redefined. Defourny’s (2003, 2009) theoretical perspectives discuss the mechanisms of documentation for children, from fictional and non-fictional elements; Kesler extends the discussion to the construction of poetic non-fiction; Pappas states that this category of books contributes to the training of the child reader. Additionally, studies on children’s literature such as those by Hunt, Noldeman, Nikolajeva, Sipe, Pantaleo, Kummerling-Meibauer, among others, which point to the child as an implied and privileged reader, will be assimilated. The corpus of analysis selected covers a variety of productions for childhood. Thus, the books Plume by Isabella Simler; Handwritten Alphabet by Isol; Loudly Softly in a Whisper by Romana Romayshyn & Andriy Lesiv; Fashion: a story for children by Katia Canton with illustration by Luciana Schiller; and Leo’s Carnivorous Plant by Claudia Souza with illustration by Chris Mazzotta were all chosen. The results indicate that, regardless of the informative content of the work, the verbal and visual construction of the works present an expanded negotiation between the voices of the adult specialist and the child reader, predominating at one time or another, depending on each work.

Biographical information

Celia Abicalil Belmiro is a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, with post-doctorate at University of Cambridge (UK), researcher at Centre of Literacy, Reading and Writing (CEALE/UFMG), that comprises studies on literary reading, reader development, and education teachers’ competence to form readers. She coordinates a research group on literary literacy and has published several articles and book chapters on picturebooks for children and young readers. She is an editor of books of literary education and coeditor on The Routledge Companion International Children’s Literature. Her current area of investigation is the relationship between visual and verbal texts in picturebooks, incorporating interdisciplinary studies. 

Marcus Vinicius Rodrigues Martins is a librarian, with a Masters in Information Science from the School of Information Science of the Federal University of Minas Gerais and PhD in Education from the Federal University of Minas Gerais. He participated in the “Reading and Writing in Early Childhood” research group and the “Bebeteca” project, focusing on children’s studies and languages with emphasis on non-fiction books, children’s literature and children’s libraries.

Keywords: nonfiction; children’s voice; hybridity; multimodality