Commemorative Issue for Dr. Lawrence Sipe

Children's Literature in Education

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 93-106

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Reading Picturebooks as Literature: Four-to-Six-Year-Old Children and the Development of Literary Competence

  • Coosje van der PolAffiliated withDepartment of Language and Culture Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Tilburg University Email author 


This article explores what it means to be a competent reader of picture storybooks by examining the abilities of some 4–6-year-olds, who were read stories aloud in class. Jonathan Culler’s concept of “literary competence” was used to tease out the children’s implicit knowledge of the structures and conventions that enable them to read a work of fiction as literature. From a more practical point of view, Lawrence Sipe’s class-based work, discussing picture storybooks with first and second grade children, provided some useful guidelines. This current study draws on an educational design experiment involving “literary conversation guides,” which help probe children’s understanding of such story features as character and irony.


Literary competence Pre-school children Picturebooks Educational design experiment