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A Literacy Landscape Unresolved

Beyond the Boy Crisis and into Superhero Fiction

Michael Kehler and Jacob Cassidy

Keywords: boys; comics; gender reform; masculinities; multiliteracies; superhero fiction

Drawing on qualitative data of secondary school students, we examine how gender is implicated in a specific provincial literacy directive to employ comics and superhero fiction to engage boys. Grounded in a multiliteracies and masculinities framework, we interrogate the intersection of gender and literacy practices in a secondary school English classroom. The research in this article offers a counternarrative to a prevailing discourse grounded in essentialist notions of all boys as struggling readers and instead illustrates the rich potential between students’ lifeworld connections and comics as engaging and critical literacy texts beyond the “boy book” approach adopted in many literacy classrooms. We further argue that a sharper focus on critical literacy pedagogy, which incorporates comics and superhero fiction, reveals an invisibility of gender differences among adolescent reading practices rather than the visibility that has prompted and maintained gendered reform strategies to “help the boys” increase achievement levels in literacy classrooms.

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