Sidewalk Flowers – Primary School Children Talk, Write and Draw to Graphically Told Stories

Submitted by: Jeanette Hoffmann
Abstract: Key Words: Reader Response, Picture Books, Language Acquisition, Classroom Education, Participation


Stories told through images, like those in graphic novels awaken a great fascination, (particularly) in young readers, boys and girls alike. Reading, seeing, and imagining are central to the reception process. Contrary to perspectives of a pragmatically oriented approach of research on ‘reading literacy’, which emanates from the competent reader, this paper will take into account the reception processes and social practices from the perspective of the research on ‘emergent literacy’ (Wieler 2013). Therefore, it will show the children and their individual appropriations of graphically told stories in an open, educational context.

Within the current qualitative empirical study “Narrating in Images and Texts – Graphic Novels in German Lessons” (Hoffmann 2017) different learning groups of mono- and multilingual primary school students read various graphic novels and wordless picture books, for example the wordless graphic story “Sidewalk Flowers” (2015) by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith. The children were watching a picture-book cinema and at the same time talking about it. The story is told from the perspective of a small girl walking home with her father, picking up sidewalk flowers and seeing the world in her own way.

Against the background of an ethnographic research paradigm, we collected different data types. We videotaped and transcribed the classroom discussion and documented the texts the children wrote and the images they drew afterwards to what became important to them. The wide research questions are: how do children approach the narrative challenges of graphic stories and which linguistic, literary, and aesthetic experiences will be visible in the communicative acquisitions?

In the analysis of methodically selected key incidents (Kroon/Sturm 2007) from the various perception data (discussions, texts, images), we reconstruct by conversation analyses and by searching for traces of patterns the linguistic, literary and aesthetic experiences of the children. In the analyses, it becomes obvious that all of the heterogeneous students can participate in the reception process in a playful way and that they gain experiences concerning signals of fictionality, language games, intermediality, perspectives, colour symbolism etc.


Hoffmann (2017): Graphic Novels as an Invitation to Read, See and Imagine. In: Filoteknos. Children’s Literature – Cultural Mediation – Anthropology of Childhood. Vol. 7. Pp. 40-53.

Kroon, Sjaak/Sturm, Jan (2007): International Comparative Case Study Research in Education: Key Incident Analysis and International Triangulation. In: Herrlitz, Wolfgang/Ongstad, Siegmund/van de Ven, Piet-Hein (2007): Research on Mother Tongue Education in a Comparative International Perspective. Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi. Pp. 99-118.

Lawson, Jon Arno/Sydney Smith (2015): Sidewalk Flowers. Toronto: Groundwood Books.

Wieler, Petra (2013): Varianten des Literacy-Konzepts und ihre Bedeutung für die Deutschdidaktik. In: Abraham, Ulf/Albrecht Bremerich-Vos/Volker Frederking/Petra Wieler (Eds.) (2013): Deutschdidaktik und Deutschunterricht nach PISA. Neuauflage. Stuttgart: Fillibach bei Klett. Pp. 47-68.