Graphic texts - Literacy enhancing tools in early childhood (Book review)

May. 15, 2015

Prof. Eva Teubal (emerita) worked as the Head of the Department of Psychology at the David Yellin Academic College of Education, Jerusalem, Israel.
Dr. Ainat Guberman is the Head of the Research Authority at the MOFET Institute, and lecturer at David Yellin College of Education and the Hebrew University, Israel.

The “literacy problem”… is not that literacy has declined among recent generations of children.

It is that today’s economy and the complex political and social challenges facing the nation demand more advanced skills than ever before. (Murnane, Sawhill & Snow, 2012, p.3).

Literacy may be defined as the ability to deal with written texts so that they empower both individuals' and groups' interaction with their surroundings.
This ability includes understanding and obtaining written information required for different goals; evaluating it critically; integrating information obtained from different sources; retaining information over a long period; sharing it with other people and raising questions and new directions of thought (ALA, 1989).

Unfortunately, early childhood literacy education focuses too often upon decoding skills, deferring dealing with the deeper linguistic, cognitive and social aspects of texts to later stages.
By the time the educational system expects children to "read in order to learn", essential literacy tools and background knowledge are missing (Duke & Bolock, 2012).

The book Graphic texts - Literacy enhancing tools in early childhood presents the potential contribution of non-verbal graphic texts to the development of children's literacy skills in the broad sense defined above.
Adopting an ecological pedagogical approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), literacy education is situated within social, cultural and material contexts, and develops with cooperation between people of different backgrounds and abilities (Vygotsky, 1978).

As children are engaged in meaningful activities, educators are encouraged to provide them with opportunities to use a variety of non-verbal texts such as icons, photographs and maps, as powerful tools that can help them achieve their goals.

Through repeated cycles of planning, implementation, recording and reflection in small groups, children experience the affordances of each type of text, and gradually acquire the abilities to comprehend and produce them for a variety purposes: drawing icons of items they have to bring to a bonfire party; photographing a vegetable they planted in the garden in order to record its development and learn about it; or drawing a map in order to explain to peers and their parents how to arrive to their home for a visit.

These examples demonstrate that graphic texts are means for mind regulation, differentiating between tasks already accomplished and those yet to be accomplished; mind expansion, supporting memory and learning; and mind sharing, i.e. functioning as means of communication.
Literate societies use non-verbal graphic texts for the same purposes.
Thus, non-verbal graphic texts enable children to be active participants in social interactions and achieve cognitive goals that would have been otherwise inaccessible to them.

As children acquire command of written language, non-verbal graphic texts provide sound bases upon which written texts may be added gradually: Letters numerals and words may be added to calendars to designate dates, or to maps to refer to points of interest.
By experiencing the unique contribution of each type of symbolic representation children expand their "toolkit" and learn how to effectively produce and interpret combined texts.
These are necessary skills for full membership in literate societies.
Living in multicultural societies and accommodating to the needs of immigrants pose major challenges educational systems today.

The book shows how non-verbal graphic texts may be used as communication means that support interactions with children and adults who are non-conversant in the educational framework's dominant language, whether oral or written.

The book deals with five types of graphic texts: drawings, photographs, icons, maps and calendars. Each one of these is described in terms of its characteristic features and contexts of use, followed by a review of current findings concerning the development of children's comprehension and production of the text.
Finally, a comprehensive account of the possible contributions of each text to children's cognitive and social development is provided, complemented by a multitude of practical examples of relevant educational activities, children's productions and research ideas.

Therefore the book may be very useful to educators who work with young children, children with special needs and children with immigration background.
Other professionals who work with these populations such as psychologists, speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists, may also find it useful.
Last but not least – the book provides stimulating research suggestions for students and researchers.

For further information and free reading of the first two chapters:


American Library Association (January 10, 1989). Final report of the American Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Chicago: ALA.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Duke, N. K., & Block, M. K. (2012). Improving reading in the primary grades. Future of Children, 22(2), 55 – 72.

Murnane, R., Sawhill, I., & Snow, C. (2012). Literacy challenges for the twenty-first century: introducing the issue. Future of Children, 22(2), 3-15.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. London: Harvard University Press.

Updated: Jun. 07, 2015