Engaging the Social Imagination in the College Classroom Through Radiant Readings of Global Picturebooks


Building on Kelly Wissman’s (2019) work, the article describes and analyzes artifacts from the author’s college children’s literature class, during which students read radiantly: in ways that may take them outside of themselves, their realities, and points of view, “like rays emitting from the sun, to seek out alternative perspectives, new directions, and unique pathways” (p. 16). The analysis of these collected student artifacts is guided by Wissman’s understanding of the social imagination as the capacity of a reader to imagine “the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others” as well as “to invent visions of what should be and what might be” (p. 15). It also builds on the theoretical framework developed by Kathy Short (2019) in relation to the social responsibility that needs to be practiced and cultivated by those involved in the creating, teaching, and reading of global children’s literature. Nurturing reading as an act of creativity and fostering dialogic inquiry around global picturebooks is shown to be quite effective in engaging college students’ social imagination. The author brings evidence from the prompts and artifacts that supports this effectiveness, demonstrating the different ways in which students were able to read Two White Rabbits (2015) and The Arrival (2007) radiantly. The prompts that were designed for these immigration-themed picturebooks were successful in nurturing reading as an act of creativity and fostering dialogic inquiry, and thus succeeded in engaging the students’ social imagination. A main reason behind their success was that, by design, they required readers to use their imagination and creativity as well as pay close attention to the picturebooks’ visual aesthetics in order to fill in the gaps. Another important reason behind the students’ radiant readings was the selection of these specific picturebooks, which fit Jessica Whitelaw’s (2017) definition of disquieting picturebooks as they encourage their readers to embrace unfamiliarity and discomfort.

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