Textbooks and Early Childhood Literacy

Allan Luke & Victoria Carrington & Cushla Kapitzke. Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy. Editor: Nigel Hall, Joanne Larson, Jackie Marsh. Sage Publication. 2003.

Texts as Artifacts of Childhood

If childhood is a social construction, then its social practices are contingent on historically evolving cultural technologies and artifacts. These technologies include the domestic implements of infant care and childrearing, those utilitarian objects of women’s work. They also include the core technologies of modern childhood: toys and books. In the contemporary political economy of childhood, toys and books have a special place. They have become linked and co-marketed pedagogic commodities. They are the aesthetic and didactic objects of children’s work and desire. But they are also the cultural artifacts that parents, families and caregivers purchase with income that is surplus to basic requirements for food, shelter, and health care.

The centrality of the book and the textbook in childhood is a recent phenomenon. Walter Ong (1958: 150) observes that the coming of the book created a ‘pedagogical juggernaut’ which ‘made knowledge something a corporation could traffic in, impersonal and abstract.’ Since the Protestant Reformation and the emergence of state-sponsored schooling in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Anglo-European childhood has involved institutional training with print, in schools and churches (cf Elson, 1964). Indeed, the orientation towards common core text study was a characteristic of Confucian educational traditions, predating these developments in the West and spreading throughout China, Korea, Thailand and other Asian countries (Nozaki et al., in press). Nonetheless, and despite long-standing Muslim, Hebraic and alterior Judaeo-Christian traditions of hermeneutic training and exegetic study by youth (Kapitzke, 1995), what counts as the textbook and its centrality in formal schooling continues to be strongly defined by modernist Western/Northern postwar educational theory and practice. Over the past decade, this pattern has typically been reinforced by the extension of neoliberal educational practices and policies by governments, aid and non-government organizations under the auspices of economic globalization into developing and newly industrialized countries (Burbules and Torres, 2000).

Throughout the history of schooling, formal education of children has come to entail a formal pedagogical interaction with an official school text: the textbook. The textbook is a print or digital artifact comprising written text designed for pedagogical purposes. That is, textbooks are didactic in form and content, authored and authorized for the selection, construction and transmission of valued knowledges and practices to apprentice readers. As such ‘the forms and contents, ideologies and discourses of textbooks constitute an official and authorised version of cultural knowledge and literate practice’ (Luke, 2000: 186).

In the current ‘political economy of textbook publishing’ (Apple and Christian-Smith, 1991), school-based early childhood literacy involves primers, basal readers, and, more generally, reading instructional series including graded or levelled storybooks for children in the initial years of schooling. This current situation has been linked to varying forms and kinds of political control of early reading instruction via policy imperatives around systems ‘accountability’ (Willis and Harris, 2000). Fifty years ago, the development of print materials reached its zenith in the large scale deployment, adoption and sales of reading series and adjunct materials by publishers like Scott Foresman, Ginn, Harcourt Brace, Macmillan and others. These textbooks have evolved to include home study and readings for an expanded educational marketplace. Changes in current cultures and economies of childhood are marked by two major developments. First, there is an increased targeting by multinational publishers of middle and upper socio-economic classes concerned about their children’s early literacy and numeracy. Secondly, there is an accelerated uptake of digital technology, mass media, and linked children’s toys and consumables among these same classes of child/parent consumers. So while current analyses have focused on the role of standardized texts and tests in the remaking of school literacy, our concern here is what has been a major move in the economy and production of textbooks that has gone relatively unremarked amongst educational researchers: the articulation of new technologies, popular culture and textbooks in home and out-of-school pedagogy.

What follows is a historical introduction to issues of ideology and political economy of the school textbook, describing its design principles and current policy uses. We then propose to expand the definition of textbooks on two axes. First, an overview is developed of ‘graded’ children’s and infants’ literature and reading materials that are commercially marketed for home, preschool and childcare reading events. We then examine consumer and popular texts as new key genres of home and public pedagogies.

Textbooks and the Production of the Modern Reading Child

Childhood and the ‘reading child’ have been objects of pedagogical discourses and practices for over five centuries (Aries, 1962). The development of a formalized, transportable and replicable technology for the production of the child through literature was realized in the earliest Reformation textbooks. One of the earliest and most successful reading textbooks for children was written by the German churchman, Johann Comenius. His Latin primer, Orbis Sensualium Pictus (The Visible World in Pictures), was printed in 1658 and subsequently used across England, Europe and America for 200 years (Venezky, 1992). Comenius’ text was different from other incunabular paediatric and pedagogical literature because of its illustrations, which were included to assist reading comprehension. Typical of Protestant Reformation primers, readership and identity were tied to the exigencies of religious belief and the German state. The technology of the printing press coupled with religious zeal in Protestant Germany generated new discourses and practices for and about children. In stated purpose, reading and writing linked the lives and identities of children—which were often brutally short—to issues of eternity. Pragmatically, however, textual practice related to the pressing issues of social and cultural control. Work with these textbooks prescribed for children how and what one could read, in what lingua franca, for what cultural and religious, social and economic purposes. As Carmen Luke’s (1989) analysis of Reformation pedagogy points out, compulsory state schooling, the mandating of basic early childhood literacy teaching, the development of secular reading textbooks, and the invention of a school inspectorate to monitor and control classroom practices with the book were parallel institutional strategies used by Martin Luther and colleagues.

Residual traces of Comenius’ influence on the design and format of textbooks remained until the second half of the twentieth century. Textbook production and use in this premodern era was ad hoc and particularistic. Written and published by individuals, textbooks were also brought to school by individual students. Some teachers kept small, eclectic collections in their classrooms, but these were used with individuals and small groups, rather than with whole classes. In the US, spelling was taught from a range of texts, which might include Noah Webster’s Spelling Book (c. 1783), or Dilworth’s (c. 1740) and Perry’s (c. 1777) common spellers. Other significant textbooks in the development of literacy acquisition and public schooling during this era included McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers (c. 1836), and Latin primers such as Kennedy’s The Public School Latin Primer (c. 1866) and Arnold’s Latin Prose Composition (c. 1839). Whilst these texts each had their own curriculum and instructional method, in large part, they had continuing influences on reading and writing instruction for more than 100 years until the collapse of Latin grammar as a curricular field in the 1950s (Westbury, 1990).

The historical development of the early literacy textbook, then, was strongly tied to religious and moral training, affiliated with Protestant state ideology, and featured overt attacks on other belief systems: Webster’s Spelling Book’s depiction of the Pope is a case in point.

With the eighteenth and nineteenth century spread of empire, textbooks and early literacy training became ideal vehicles for the inculcation of colonial values and allegiance to the crown (Pennycook, 1998). Hence, books like the Irish Readers (c. 1830), the Royal Readers (c. 1890), the Ontario Readers (c. 1880) all presented strong colonial themes of empire and race, national and linguistic hegemony. Prior to the emergence of cheap, accessible and widely distributed books in the early twentieth century, for many rural and urban communities in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, early school textbooks and affiliated religious texts (e.g. the Bible, hymnals, prayer books, Paradise Lost) were the only available print materials in many homes, and were the staples of family and communal readings. In this regard, before the advent of mass commercial print culture, the influence of the textbook on moral and ideological formation was profound, by virtue of its near-universal availability and relative exclusivity. Further, home-based early childhood literacy events and those of the schools often shared religious and colonial literary contents (Luke and Kapitzke, 1994; Kapitzke, 1999).

Development of the basal reading series by American educational psychologists in the early twentieth century has, to this day, profoundly affected the shaping of what counts as literacy, literacy instruction and reading in early childhood. Historical studies by Shannon (1989) and Luke (1988) document the emergence of the commercially structured, ‘scientifically’ designed and mass marketed reading textbooks in the US in the early and mid twentieth century. The prototype of the contemporary reading series was William S. Gray and May Hill Arbuthnot’s Dick and Jane (c. 1925) series, which dominated early literacy instruction in the US, Canada and other parts of the English-speaking world for over half a century.

A continuing focal point of public and scholarly debate is the matter of overt moral and cultural content of early childhood reading materials. It is not surprising that since the Dick and Jane prototypes, questions about textbook ideological representation have been recurrent. These include critiques of the representation of gender relations in early readers, the exclusion of minority identities and cultures in children’s literature, and, indeed, the construction of a particular middle class version of childhood itself (Baker and Freebody, 1987). In this way, content analyses have called attention to the degree and extent to which textbooks construct, rather than represent, worlds of childhood, prescribing national, regional and local forms of cultural identity and social action (e.g. see articles in Apple and Christian-Smith, 1991; Chen, 2002; Nozaki et al., in press).

In contrast with the Protestant and colonialist traditions, the designers of modern textbooks consistently have focused on literacy instruction qua scientific method rather than ideological and moral training. It is this view of the textbook as codification of pedagogic method that is the dominant paradigm of American educational science, more specifically, of reading psychology.

But what is distinctive is not only the particular ‘scientific’ approach to reading of any given textbook per se. In the case of Dick and Jane, the books were premised on then contemporary models of word recognition, while current officially sanctioned approaches in the US have moved towards direct instruction in ‘alphabetics’ and phonics. More profound was the very premise of the modern textbook: that the actual narrative reading text could be designed on the basis of psychological theories of instruction and skill, whether behaviourist, cognitive or psycholinguistic, and not on literary content or religious values per se; that a whole suite of ‘teacher-proofed’ curricular commodities including guidebooks, student workbooks, adjunct visual and instructional materials, and tests could be delivered; and that standardized tests could be developed on comparable design principles to assess teacher and system efficacy at delivery of the whole package. This, as Larson (2002) explains, sets the ground not only for a redefinition of literacy pedagogy as the object of science and pseudoscience, a move formalized in the current US and UK policy environments, but also for multinational corporate production and marketing and, indeed, ‘snake oil sales.’

To this day, then, the early reading textbook is an archetype of modernist design. But it is also a powerful economic phenomenon in its own right: a multinational product that can be adapted, translated, and niche marketed in a range of national and regional markets; a comprehensive suite of educational commodities with a pedagogic reach that extends far beyond children’s narrative reading text; a scientifically ‘tested’ and ‘proven’ product. The typical US or UK reading series is modified by local experts and marketed in several English-speaking markets. The educational effects of this model speak to ongoing policy questions about literacy instruction in the UK and US. There, the textbook is a central policy tool for a regulatory system that aims at standardization and quality assurance of classroom literacy events. While the Reformation textbook was a response to the demands of mass schooling in the newly invented secular nation-state, the modern reading series was the response of educational sciences and large publishing houses to the demands of modernist, urban society par excellence. As an embodiment of pedagogic method (e.g. phonics, word recognition), it promises discipline, standardization and accountability in the mass delivery of literacy skills. As an educational commodity, large scale adoption across state systems guarantees efficient economies of scale, interstate and transnational export potential, and, increasingly, viable economies of scope for the development of further editions, adjunct and affiliated products in other areas of educational demand and consumption.

There is some recent evidence of the enlistment of many of these approaches to textbook development, with their attendant epistemological and curricular assumptions, in the educational systems of rapidly industrializing and globalizing states in Asia, the Pacific and Africa (e.g. Suaysuwan and Kapitzke, in press). In some instances, as in Korea, this has entailed a direct and explicit textual translation of the values, ideologies and semiotic codes of American reading series (Lee, in press). The role of the state in the political economy of the textbook, of course, depends upon nation or region specific regulation and policy. In the case of many developing countries, the state has retained responsibility not only for the adoption and monitoring of textbook form and content, but often for their production and distribution (Suaysuwan and Kapitzke, in press). In the North and West, the political economy of textbook production, adoption and implementation tends to be more complex, linking government policy, assessment and accountability systems, and the establishment of regional and state ‘marketplaces’ for multinational educational commodities. The current debates over literacy and reading in the US and UK are cases in point.

In the last three years, the implementation of the UK National Literacy Strategy and the findings of the US National Reading Panel have again focused policy and academic debate on methods, reviving simmering debates over the place of phonics, direct instruction, literature study and, of course, over the use of standardized achievement tests as principal systemic measures for assessing school and programme efficacy. In many ways, these debates begin from the baseline assumptions of the technocratic model. The first assumption concerns the advent of ‘evidence-based policy,’ that the best methods for teaching literacy and the best textbook packages can be determined by reference to an evidence base wholly reliant on classical psychological experimental design and achievement tests.

The second assumption is that the optimal instructional method can be coded, broadcast and implemented across large educational jurisdictions through the mandating of preferred textbooks and affiliated instructional sequences—with current controversies over the US federal government’s moves to only provide support for those reading programmes (e.g. Open Court) based on ‘scientific evidence’ (Cunningham, 2001; Garan, 2001).

The Crossover of Textbooks into Home Reading

Goodman et al. (1988) used the term ‘basalization’ to refer to the textbook development practices described above. Typically, this involves: (1) the attachment of a teachers’ guide to direct the pragmatic use of texts, the ‘running metatextual commentary’ (Luke et al., 1989) on the children’s narrative; and (2) a control of the ‘level’ of the text, usually through the application of a conventional readability scheme that places limits on vocabulary, lexical density and syntactic complexity. Texts are levelled and ‘graded’ for the incremental introduction of digraph and dipthong combinations and core word recognition patterns for sequenced skill outcomes.

These and other linguistic, semiotic and physical characteristics of the textbook have evolved in relation to the sociolinguistic and cultural context where they are most likely to be read and used, the classroom. There are ongoing debates among early childhood educators about how, when, and with which techniques children should receive formal and informal instruction in literacy, whether this should occur in schools or homes, under whose professional jurisdiction and so forth. There has been an international push to extend and formalize aspects of early literacy experience into earlier years of schooling, and home and childcare settings. In part, this reflects the policy focus on early intervention, widespread concern about home-school transitions for children from lower socio-economic, cultural and linguistic minority groups, and an affiliated movement for ‘family literacy,’ home reading activities preparatory to formal schooling (Carrington and Luke, 2003). At the same time, the market in both print materials and educational toys amongst middle class parents who seek to accelerate their children’s skill and intellectual development has expanded.

The early twentieth century architects of the literacy textbook worked in an era in which the sales of Dick and Jane readers to schools for consumption by teachers and small children would have been the largest market available. In the early to mid twentieth century, working families still relied greatly upon public and school libraries for access to books. To this day funding cutbacks in public libraries have their most direct effects on those communities without the surplus income to purchase books (Luke and Kapitzke, 1999). Yet few publishers could have imagined the market possibilities of the extension of the market for early reading instructional materials into homes. The use of books in home and community settings for formal and informal introductions to literacy practices now constitutes a significant and growing proportion of the trade publishing industry.

By recent accounts, the children’s literature market is now a multibillion dollar transnational enterprise. According to Cummins (2001), the average American book price of all children’s and young adult titles is $US8.41 for paperbacks and $17.57 for hardbounds, rising on average 5.7% per year in cost. The Achuka Children’s Book Resources website (http://www.achuka.co.uk) describes UK children’s books as a 225 million industry. This industry includes, of course, bestselling children’s books, with over 10 million copies of Beatrix Potter books in print, and bestseller lists that include such early childhood classics as Mercer Mayer’s Just Me and My Dad, with almost 5 million copies in print, of Dr Seuss, ‘Sesame Street’ reading materials and other books, and the current bestselling America: A Patriotic Primer by Lynne Cheney.

In recent years there has been an extension of textbooks into the home reading environment, beginning with the movement of ‘graded’ texts into trade markets. Trade journals like the School Library Journal have long categorized ‘children’s and young adult titles’ sales by age/grade, for example, ‘preschool to grade 4,’ ‘grade 5 and up.’ But more recently, marketing has involved increased ‘basalization’ and branding by level. Series like the bestselling I Can Read series and many Golden Books have long branded reading ages through readability formulae. But in the UK and many other countries, popular bookstore chains like W.H. Smith have begun to list, shelve and market books by official National Literacy Strategy levels. Textbook-style design features are crossing over into the general trade children’s literature field, and home reading is being brought into alignment with the official categories and practices of official school literacy events.

In its most overt form, this involves crossover product development and marketing by multinationals like McGraw-Hill. McGraw-Hill’s Open Court reading series has received official sanction from the US federal government’s recent moves to legislate ‘scientific’ approaches to reading (there are hotlinks to the relevant legislation for teachers and educators on the McGraw-Hill publishing website http://www.sra-4kids.com). Beginning from an enhanced market share position in early childhood textbooks, McGraw-Hill has expanded its range of affiliated products into the home market. Graded readers similar to those used in Open Court are sold on the McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing website, an Amazon-style operation, for parents:

Your first grader has been introduced to math, phonics and language art skills at school. This is the perfect opportunity to initiate your child’s study habits and help build their confidence level at the same time. With workbooks, software and flashcards from McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing, your child can practice these tough new subjects. Practicing with McGraw-Hill materials will help eliminate confusion. (http://www.mhkis.com/cgi-bin/gradeprod.cgi?grade=1).

In this marketing text, the push is on for parents to better align their home reading practices to those of the reading series, through the purchase of textbook-like commodities. But this doesn’t stop with reading and literature per se. In the same catalogue, grades 1 and 2 test preparation materials are marketed to parents: ‘Test preparation material from the nations #1 school testing company!’ is said to ‘offer children the preparation they need to achieve success on standardized tests.’ All of this occurs under the umbrella of official endorsement of a co-marketed product by the federal government and various scientific ‘experts.’

Textbooks for the teaching of reading—and their affiliated worksheets, flashcards and standardized tests—are no longer the focus of formal instruction solely in schools. Textbook design and marketing principles have been extended into the non-school market, making for a de facto institutionalization and domestication of home reading—among those social classes with sufficient surplus income—by state literacy policy. This involves both the levelling and the scientific grading of texts, their marketing in relation to official school levels, badged products which are based on product recognition and loyalty (e.g. SRA), print and multimedia that are derived from school series, and activities and texts officially adopted for school use. The modern textbook thus is extending into the home, into ‘family literacy,’ ‘early intervention’ and new constructions of early childhood, abetted by a multinational political economy of text production. These developments mark the confluence of state intervention in the shaping of what counts as literacy, the standardization of school reading practices, and the expansion of consumer markets by multinational publishers.

New Texts, New Identities, New Literacies

Children, parents, and carers alike have become key participants in global industries and economies founded on the advertising and marketing of images and identities of ‘child’ and ‘childhood’ (Carrington, 2002). Homes and communities are locations for the flows of consumer culture—magazines, advertising, television guides, and their co-branded digital and media texts (Marsh, 2000). The impacts of popular culture and digital toys and media, and the study of how these are leading to hybridized and blended social practices, are key areas of current ethnographic and sociological research (e.g. Marsh and Millard, 2000; Pahl, 2002).

Basal readers and canonical children’s literature alike have tended to present a ready-made possible world, replete with characters, scenery and storylines. Many of the texts of popular culture, however, are firmly and unapologetically rooted in the practices of everyday life in consumer societies. These texts rely heavily on a direct connection to the consumer and media world outside the text. In this sense, the texts of consumer culture engage children with the flows of multinational culture rather than insulating them in a distinct, child-appropriate world of play, development, fantasy and so forth. With their emphasis on a perpetual present, consumer culture texts are constructed to create a kind of semiotic isomorphism between portrayed world and that of the reader. While they principally are marketed to particular social class and cultural demographic ‘niches,’ like Dick and Jane they act almost inversely to establish an ostensive equality of a universal, white, Anglo-American middle class childhood and neighbourhood. This is done in different ways. Barbie Magazine, for instance, makes use of pronouns, particularly ‘you,’ throughout its text to create instant familiarity: ‘And you think you’re clumsy’ (August 2002: 10); ‘Start with a scarf like us’ (76); ‘You’ll love these fun cool summer outfits’; ‘Subscribing to Barbie Magazine is totally cool.’

In order to establish product loyalty and flexible economies of scope, consumer texts are characteristically intertextual: Barbie Magazine makes explicit and repeated reference to Barbie dolls, fashion, jewellery, videos and computer games and to other magazines. Its relationship with the reader is to instruct her/him in the world around and outside the text; to equip the reader with relevant and up-to-date knowledge so as to construct appropriate identities in a consumer culture. The multimodal nature of these texts, that is, where one message or meaning is presented in multiple formats (e.g. narrative text in multiple colour and fonts, accompanied by photographs, set next to graphic images and witty one-liners) reinforces key messages about the value and desirability of particular products, and their affiliated lifestyles and identities. This is enhanced by the complex visual layout of these texts, with different fonts and many small text boxes.

The genre here is a form of infotainment. In represented fashion spreads (‘Look like a princess!’), ostensible ideological content and advertising for affiliated products are identical. The pedagogic nature of identity construction extends beyond each single text. In a surf-themed text, for example, as well as fashion spreads, surfing tips and personalized recounts of surfing lifestyle, there are descriptions of particular musical genres and movies to watch. Like the pieces of an identikit, readers are taught what pieces go together to create particular identities and, by their absence, what pieces do not fit this particular identity puzzle.

Consumer texts thus are didactic and pedagogic texts of a particular force and power, bridging and transgressing traditional text genres. Readers learn that the text’s message is multilevelled, contained in the multiply layered juxtapositions and overlays of pictures, text and font styles. As on the Internet, s/he learns to track visual/semiotic pathways, following the font, colour and picture cueing systems as much, if not more, than the print itself. Where traditionally the message was text-based with pictorial references, the childhood texts of consumer culture do not follow this format. They are aggressively non-linear and, rather than the left to right, top to bottom pathway of print-focused text, they require new directionalities across and through.

At the same time, ‘adult’ texts and knowledge are increasingly available to children via a number of channels—television, satellite and cable TV, the Internet. Adults are unable to control the type and amount of information available to children. This shift presents a challenge to existing boundaried notions of childhood and, just as surely, to classroom-based pedagogies. Our point is that a deluge of texts now claim the authority to instruct children in how to participate in childhood and consumer culture. These constitute a blend of ‘public pedagogy’ (Luke, 1996) and what we term ‘household pedagogy.’ In his analysis of ‘unschooled learning,’ Mahiri (2001) argues that the official curriculum and the institutionalized school are at risk of being superseded. Where earlier generations of children were socialized primarily within the boundaries of family, school, religious organization and community, consumer and popular culture is now the principal mode of early childhood socialization (Kline, 1993). The case we have chosen (Barbie) is illustrative only—and we could alternatively have studied a range of other popular figures, from Teletubbies and Garfield to now traditional multimodal representations of Richard Scarry characters. We have discussed two elements of the extension of ‘texts’ and, indeed, textbooks beyond their traditional domains of schooling and curriculum into home and community contexts: the extension of schoollike reading scheme materials into commodity ranges targeting the middle class, and the ubiquitous texts of popular culture that are found in most lounge rooms and bedrooms in late capitalist societies.

From Textbooks to Pedagogic Texts

Ong’s (1958) print-based ‘pedagogical juggernaut’ rolls on. Aided by current policy settings that emphasize accountability via standardized testing, the modern textbook continues to assert a dominant influence on early childhood literacy. More than a corpus of valued knowledges, official ideologies and beliefs, the reading series acts as a codification of instructional approach, of educational ‘science,’ and as a way of steering from a distance teachers’ and children’s interactions with literacy. As we have shown here, textbooks, primers, basal readers, and the common ‘graded’ or ‘levelled’ texts designed for pedagogical and literary uses in the home remain a central part of childhood in print-based economies and cultures.

The political economy of text publishing is actively seeking out new products, new markets and new niches for children, parents and teachers as text consumers. If there is an axiom that arises from the commodification of school knowledge and literacy, it is that publishers and their affiliated knowledge and entertainment corporations necessarily establish, constitute and build new consumer needs, new communities and new target groups of youth and parents. Emergent information technologies have helped to shape and accelerate these developments.

At the same time, the traditionally print-based industry has expanded, consisting of an interesting blend of smaller ‘start-up’ publishers and large multinational affiliates of larger media/entertainment corporations. The crossover effects we have described are not just from textbooks to children’s literature, but also involve the co-development and co-marketing of toys and parenting products, movies and websites, video games and other mass media products (Cope and Kalantzis, 2001). On bestseller lists we find children’s literature and reading series with spinoff connections to movies and cartoons. In this way, narrative literature acts to directly market products, from Arthur stuffed figures to Bob the Builder toolkits. Band-Aids, cereals and household products also are spun off of these characters and themes. Movie and video games producers routinely purchase the rights of bestselling children’s books to produce other textual products based on these characters and stories. While its hegemony in the school-based production of the literate subject remains unrivalled, the textbook has lost any monopoly on children’s moral, intellectual and psychological development that it might have had. In information societies and economies of signs, the textbook has become one of an array of textual products which are changing the face of early childhood literacy practices.

In ways that early analysts and critics from Ong (1958) to Elson (1964) couldn’t have foreseen, the textbook is morphing into new shapes, both as a textual genre and as a commodity, an object of media crossover and textual/semiotic convergence (Kalmbach, 1997). Exploded diagrams and ‘callouts’ in textbooks illustrate this process of intertextual transference and hybridity. Callouts, copied from technical illustrations of the ‘model kit’ and ‘repair manual’ genre, are the captions of visual/verbal display in exploded diagrams. Each callout assembles an arrangement of descriptive and contextual details that complement and extend the visual image. This shift to visual display in school textbooks is to be expected as designers, authors and illustrators—who themselves were reared on ‘Sesame Street,’ MTV, video and computer games—enter the publishing industry.

The advent and spread of a postmodern consumer culture based on the commodification and consumption of texts and discourse have already had a visible impact on the reshaping of the experiences and discourses of childhood (Lee, 2001) and of children’s early literacy texts and literate practices. In the ‘semiotic economies’ (Luke, 2003) of ‘developed’ and advanced capitalist societies, the production and consumption of text and discourse have become key economic and cultural foci. Early childhood in home and school, mass media and shopping mall is being reframed as a training ground for early literacy. At the same time, these sites have become focal points for the commodification of childhood. At once, the literacy textbook is reasserting its traditional authority over the shaping of what counts as literacy in the school, while it inexorably seeks out new niches, new crossovers, new forms and new markets.