The Difference Between Critical Literacy and Critical Reading in Children’s Literature

New teachers struggle with the  differences between critical literacy and critical reading. Lets begin with an example to understand these similar but disparate terms:

My children love this book. The melodic rhymes put them at ease before bed. The story captures the tale of all the animals and ends with the farm falling asleep.

Critical Reading

A critical reading lesson in children’s literature would ask:

  • What does a text say?
  • What does a text do?
  • What does a text mean?

You might point to the rhymes and children those. You may ask why an author used a certain word. You may ask about colors used by the illustrator. You may ask about why an author started in the morning and went through the night.

Critical Literacy

In critical literacy you would compare our fake and romanticized version of the farm with something like this:

or this

A critical literacy lesson would ask

What is the difference between where we think food comes from and where food comes from?

Where would animals be happier in the book or in our real life farms? Do animals have the right to be happy? Any rights? Who gets to decide?

You may even write “A Truth in Farming Book” or start an urban garden.

The Main Difference

In critical reading you are critiquing the author and the text. In critical literacy you are critiquing society and power. Not always the easiest thing to do while staying employed.

Speaking truth to power and critical pedagogy are shunned in schools.

Yet in today’s era when white nationalist have ascended into the White House; when Trump can claim for years that Barak Obama was born in Kenya; or that climate change is a hoax invented by China; when 66% of Republican voters falsely believe Obama is a Muslim (still); when President  Trump refers to Bad Hombres, Nasty Women, and bans people from entering our country if they are Muslim but not Christian….

Then I have to ask, “Can we afford to not teach critical literacy in school?”

Also published on Medium.

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Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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  1. ??Can’t wait to read!


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