Reviews 2014

Διδασκαλία της λογοτεχνίας και δημιουργική γραφή [Teaching Literature and Creative Writing]

Διδασκαλία της λογοτεχνίας και δημιουργική γραφή [Teaching Literature and Creative Writing]. Andreas Karakitsios. Thessaloniki: Zygos, 2014. 335 pages. €22.00 (paperback).

Teaching Literature and Creative Writing is the latest of a prodigious output of Andreas Karakitsios at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. Karakitsios is developing a theory of creativity in children’s literature, especially with respect to its cultural position in Western societies. As is typical, in this volume, Karakitsios ranges far and wide drawing upon his previous work to juxtapose a seemingly disparate set of topics in an attempt to further theorize the child’s engagement with the literary texts with a particular focus on European, especially Greek, examples.

Although creative writing became staple fair in Greek Universities and classrooms during the 1990s, as a way to engage readers and supplement the creative writing process, Karakitsios argues that children's books are the primary source of inspiration behind much creative thinking and artistic endeavour, yet teachers do not teach students produce creative responses to the texts they read. For Karakitsios, it makes sense to observe connections between current trends in the teaching of literature and the development of children’s creativity. What is lacking is a clear sense of how one might promote ethical sensibility rather than knowledge of canonical literature. Karakitsios proposes that “children’s literature can challenge existing ideologies and in doing so compensate for the spirit of oblivion, the utilitarianism, the reality of modern society” (34 [my translation]).

The cornerstone of Karakitsios’s argument is that books are culturally and socially situated. Consequently, they reflect the values of the era in which they are written. He examines how the books children read are filtered through the book industry, screen advertisements, bookstores and (increasingly rarely) through libraries. Although this book largely covers literature for all age levels, the arguments that the author presents are particularly provoking for those who read and teach children’s literature.

Creative writing and creative thinking is important noticeably absent in the school curriculum. Despite a series of reforms of the national curriculum, the Greek Ministry of Education has not been able to revitalise the teaching of literature in primary schools, largely because teachers still tend to rely on repetition and memorization. Karakitsios believes that by focussing on creative responses to literary texts, the situation could be improved. He supports a recent Ministry initiative known as “a book’s friendship” during which reading is given a specific slot in the teaching schedule in primary schools. Although this initiative has not yet demonstrated the positive results Karakitsios anticipated, he still sees promise for the future. He has now shifted his attention to retraining teachers, and introducing creative ways of teaching reading and writing. Once teachers are more familiar with the strategies he outlines, and can use them confidently in the classroom, learning will become more exciting and relevant for children.

The Ministry of Education guidelines emphasise teachers’ creativity and endorse the regular testing of different literature techniques in class. This presupposes that the teacher is creative, knows the children’s literature well enough, and is able to present literature in a manner that encourages children to love reading. In response, Karakitsios provides a theoretical framework for thinking through the following issues:

a) the basis on which modern teachers can structure a classroom culture in which children’s literature can be connected with contemporary social issues

b) ways to introduce children’s literature to children in educational settings

c) the production of creative speech so that children will read a book from a writer’s creative point of view (e.g. we create, alongside the writer, a literature book in class

In addition to these practical points, Teaching Literature and Creative Writing also offers an alternative explanation as to why Greeks have become so engaged in creative writing and literature during this particular period in the country’s history. All over the country, Greeks are taking courses in creative writing. Increasing numbers of Greeks are alsostudying literature during their weekends, many of them taking master’s degrees in literature. In the first part of his book, Karakitsios proposes that this writing explosion marks a return of the Art of Rhetoric and of the values held by the Ancient Greeks. Chapter Two discusses the adventure of creative writing in Western Europe in a critical procedure that may help theorists of literature to view literature in terms of a new challenge as a form of dialogical communication.

The second part of the book introduces readers to poetry. Karakitsios cites Novak Boris’s description of the multisensory and playful action of shared poetry: “Children listen, feel, taste, play with the words whereas adults listen the words but don’t observe them” (53 [my translation]). This sensual engagement with poetry, that Karakitsios claims children have, is proffered as the ideal. He draws the connections between the child’s unfiltered perception and strategies for teaching children to express themselves through poetry. He pays particular attention to acronyms, brainstorming, word games, figurative games with phrases and creative games with other media in the fourth and fifth chapter (81-178). These examples of creative games with words result in surreal texts which are faithful to the aesthetics of language and to the structural theory of the communicative power in literature promoted within the French literary tradition. Karakitsios applies modern theories of literature to simple examples of writing for children (187-200).

In the third section of the book, Karakitsios connects creative thinking with the arts of reading and speaking using theories developed within literary scholarship. He offers a rather optimistic account of how fictional worlds in children’s literature can promote creative thought. Children’s literature offers children the possibility to discover new worlds, and in doing so encourages them to envisage ways in which their own reality could be changed. In this section, Karakitsios also sums up the value of various different literary theories for promoting children’s reading and speaking and provides a framework for evaluating different approaches.

Smaragda Papadopoulou
University of Ioannina, Greece