An ironic theme in children’s literature is the idea of being literate vs. non-literate in a piece of literature that one must be literate or know someone who is literate to be able to understand. The idea that already being literate when reading a story about those who may be illiterate gives readers some sort of superiority complex to a character or group of people who are illiterate. In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Lisa Paul explains the importance of literacy and how it has been displayed in popular culture. Paul describes that while literacy comes in many forms through the subjects a child learns in school, literacy in itself is an extremely important aspect to a child’s education as it is seen as almost an indicator of educational success. However, literacy is prioritized differently based on economic status, language, culture and many other aspects of someone’s life. In Kirsten Learns a Lesson, literacy plays a large role in Kirsten’s life as she grows up and attends school and is forced upon her in a stern way by her teachers. Contrastly, in other forms of pushing for literacy, like Project Literacy, the idea of literacy is gradual and is presented in a kinder way than is seen in Kirsten’s story. Both Project Literacy and Kirsten’s story present literacy as important, but in extremely different ways.
Kirsten’s teacher Mrs. Winston places a heavy emphasis on reading and memorization. The way in which she pushes Kirsten to learn to read and memorize her poems is by comparing Kirsten to her cousin Lisbeth and telling her that she isn’t actually trying when Kirsten is trying. This type of teaching can be extremely detrimental to a child since it is belittling and gives a superiority complex to those who already know how to read. In an advertisement for Project Literacy in 2015, literacy is shown in a way that makes life better, not in a way that is forcing people to read. The ad displays the reason why reading and literacy are important to life since reading helps us to “learn, laugh, love, and live.” The positivity in this advertisement doesn’t allow for placing blame on those who can’t read or belittling the illiterate, it inspires them by showing all the good things that come out of literacy. In order to present the importance of literacy, it must happen in a way that doesn’t make fun of the illiterate or give consequences to those who cannot read, like shown in Kirsten Learns a Lesson, but rather take after Project Literacy in a way that shows them how important it is through support of learning and examples of ways reading and literacy make our lives better.