“By tapping them, I am very strong”: Children’s bodies and agency when reading story apps

8:30 AM, vendredi 17 août 2018 (15 minutes)

Story apps are a format of digital literature available as applications for mobile devices which combine in a hybrid text features of picturebooks, electronic games, and animation to tell an interactive story. With children’s increasing access to tablets and smartphones at home and school, there is a strong need to understand better how children respond to digital children’s

literature and what differences in the meaning-making process take place when they engage with these multimodal, interactive narratives.

Agency refers to one’s possibility to act on the world. From a social semiotics perspective, agency is an inherent aspect of meaning-making, as readers bring their knowledge, interests and motivations at the time of reading to create their own meanings in transacting with the potential meanings suggested by the text (Kress, 2010). Readers act upon the possibilities of the text by making choices, deciding on certain meanings and rejecting others. In interactive texts like story apps, the discussion of agency comes to the fore as the participation of the reader through different forms of interactivity promote another range of possibilities for readers to exert their agency in reading. In interactive texts, readers can act upon the text and their decisions can be incorporated and impact the narrative.

This project involved qualitative case studies with 4-year-old children joint-reading story apps with at least one of their parents in a public library the UK. The apps read were: Hat Monkey (Haughton, 2014), Little Red Riding Hood (Nosy Crow, 2013) and The Monster at the End of this Book (Stone & Smollin, 2011). The last story was also read in print version (Stone & Smollin, 1971). A transdisciplinary approach involving multimodal social semiotics (Halliday, 1978; Kress, 2010; Van Leeuwen, 2005) as a theory of meaning combined with new literacy studies, reader response, literary theory, (interactive) narratology and game studies was used to analyse these reading events, which included both a close reading of the text and the analysis of the children’s responses. The meaning making process of young children reading apps revealed to be extremely dynamic and embodied, rich in playfulness and affect, and where reader's agency is at times fostered and at times constrained by the multimodal and interactive features of the stories.

In this presentation, the focus will lie on the analysis of agency in the transactions of the participants with the app The Monster at the End of This Book, discussing how children used such embodied responses to express their agency and at the same time how embodied and performative interactions promoted a stronger sense of agency in the young readers. The body in these reading events has become a central mode for making meaning and for expressing one’s meaning-making. The children have used their body to exert agency in the story, first, through the proposed interactions, which suggested a role for the reader as the controller of the narrative. This role was not only embodied through the interactive gestures, but also expressed by the readers performatively, in ‘transparent responses’ (Sipe, 2008) in which, immersed in the story, they addressed the characters through words and gestures. Finally, readers did not always adhere to the app’s framework, and at times their agency is expressed through the subversion of the app’s interactive suggestions, a subversion that also presented strong elements of theatricality.