What is Authentic Literature?
Authentic literature refers to narrative and expository texts that are written in the original, natural language of the authors. These texts are not written with a controlled vocabulary or rewritten to achieve a particular score according to a readability formula (Routman, 1991). Authentic literature is often referred to as “real books” or “trade books” (Rudman, 1989). Basically, these are the books that can be found in the library and include a wide range of fiction and nonfiction texts that authentically represent many cultures presented from diverse perspectives (Harris, 1992).
Authentic literature presents wonderfully exciting stories (narrative texts) as well as vast arrays of information (expository texts). This literature also includes secondary sources such as textbooks that use many primary sources as a basis for developing various points of view. As Norton (1991) notes when discussing authentic literature: “Literature entices, motivates, and instructs. It opens doors of discovery and provides endless hours of adventure and enjoyment” (p. 2).
Use of Authentic Literature at All Levels and With All Abilities
Researchers have found that when we rewrite texts in an attempt to make them easier for students to read, we actually make them more difficult (Simons & Ammon, 1989). By giving students at all levels authentic literature, we provide them with natural language that serves as a model for expanding their language base, helps to increase their vocabularies, excites and captivates their imaginations, and motivates them to learn. Research shows that when different types of students at various grade levels are given authentic literature as the core of their reading program, their achievement is higher and they have more positive attitudes about reading and writing (Cohen, 1968; Morrow, 1992; Tunnell & Jacobs, 1989).
Authentic literature is not just for children who can already read or for gifted students. It is for all students as they learn to read — including students experiencing various difculties with learning (Chomsky, 1978; Morrow, 1992; Pinnell, Fried, & Estice, 1990) and second language learners (Larrick, 1987; Rigg & Allen, 1989). As Charlotte Huck has said, “We don’t achieve literacy and then give children literature; we achieve literacy through literature” (Huck, 1989, p. 258).
Learning More Effectively Using Authentic Literature
As students learn and use their oral language, they do it for a real reason or purpose (Halliday, 1975). When they learn to read and write, they must also have this reason and purpose (Wells, 1986). Learning to read and write must be meaningful. The use of authentic literature makes it possible to create many meaningful reading and writing experiences for children in the classroom. These experiences are just like the real literacy experiences one has in life — reading for fun and to share; reading to find out how to make or do something; writing a letter to a friend telling about a great new book (Cullinan, 1992). By having authentic literacy experiences in the classroom, children will be better able to transfer their classroom learning to real life. We have learned that children learn to read and write together (Teale & Sulzby, 1986). By having many opportunities to hear and read authentic literature and to respond to that literature in a variety of ways, children develop their abilities to use letter-sound correspondences or phonics (Calkins & Harwayne, 1991), and they become more effective constructors of meaning and better critical thinkers (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991).
Home / School Involvement
Strong home/school communications lead to improved literacy learning for all students (Guthrie & Greaney, 1991). One of the most signicant home activities that supports improved literacy learning is reading aloud to children (Durkin, 1966; Strickland & Taylor, 1989; Trelease, 1989). Authentic literature in the classroom is the same type of literature that many children hear when read to at home. By having the same type of literature in both places, the activities of the home and school will more forcefully support each other. Reading authentic literature aloud to students helps to develop their prior knowledge, build their understanding of many concepts, develop their oral language and vocabulary, promote the joy and pleasure of reading, and develop the sense of importance of literacy learning (Cullinan, 1992).