, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 234-250
Date: 21 Apr 2010

The BFG and the Spaghetti Book Club: A Case Study of Children as Critics

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Situated at the intersections of ethnography, childhood studies, literary studies, and education research, this reception study seeks to access real children’s responses to a particular text, and to offer empirical description of actual reading experiences. Survey data is generated by taking advantage of an online resource: an archive of children’s book reviews of Roald Dahl’s The BFG posted on the website of the Spaghetti Book Club, a for-profit educational organization that provides web hosting services for school classes and their students’ book reviews. Thirty different reviews and their accompanying illustrations are analyzed; all were produced by fourth-grade students ranging in age from 8 years old to 11, and representing a broad diversity of American demographic groups and geographic areas. Far from revealing an “essential” or passive child reader, this sample set bears witness to children’s capacity to derive highly personal meaning from the text while simultaneously manifesting self-awareness about their status as children in a larger reading community. More importantly, these child-reviewers represent themselves as capable of sophisticated negotiations between self and story. A significant number of individuals demonstrate a capacity or propensity to approach the text as an aesthetic—rather than a bibliotherapeutic—experience. This study prompts us to re-evaluate the primary significance of categorical distinctions between fantasy and reality when analyzing reader response.

Robin Hoffman received her MA in the History of Art from University College London, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at the University of Pittsburgh. Her writing and teaching focuses on illustrated books, representations of childhood, and nineteenth-century British culture.