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Students’ independent research study accepted to international conference

Trio of sophomores analyze depictions of the immigrants’ journey in today’s children’s literature.

Janel Shoun-Smith | 

Emma Salvitti and Dr. Jeanne Fain look over children's books

Sophomore Emma Salvitti (left) was one of three undergraduate students who worked with Dr. Jeanne Fain on a project to analyze how image of nature in immigration-themed children's books.

Who knows what one student internship can lead to. 

Lipscomb sophomore Ella Saakian, was tapped as a freshman to serve as an intern for Dr. Jeanne Fain’s Camp Explorer, a summer literacy enrichment camp for students at Nashville’s J.E. Moss Elementary School. The law, justice and society major enjoyed the experience so much that when school started again she approached Fain about designing a research project focused on children’s literature.

Saakian gathered a team of two additional sophomores to help with the research: Emma Salvitti, family science major with a focus on mental health professions; and Camden Fain, communications major. The three have met every week this school year working on an analysis of children’s literature, not for a grade or a credit, but simply because they have a passion to better the world in a particular way. 

Jeanne Fain, director of the master’s level English language learning program in the College of Education, who hasn’t recently worked with undergraduates, suggested the students embark on a study that would fit the theme for the 2023 International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL) congress, Ecologies of Childhood.

The resulting analysis, “Examining Key Aspects of the Environment in Immigration Stories through Visual Analysis in Picture Books,” was accepted to the IRSCL, a conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in collaboration with Stanford University, that Jeanne Fain says is highly selective. 

As Saakian and Salvitti both have immigrant roots, the student team chose to do an analysis of color in pictures in selected children’s literature about immigration journeys, with the aim to assist teachers in providing inclusivity within book selection in an elementary language arts curriculum.

Using an established academic framework of picture book codes to analyze children’s literature through color, perspective and positioning of words to the characters, each student looked at each of the eight chosen books to see how they supported a particular theme related to the immigrants’ journey.

The students present their research at the Student Scholars Symposium

Emma Salvitti (left), Ella Saakian (center) and Camden Fain (right) present their research project at the Student Scholars Symposium in April.

Examining books such as Marwan's Journey, Lubna and the Pebble, Wishes and The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story, the students analyzed the interplay of images of nature and water and their meanings as the immigrant characters moved through their journeys, an approach not seen much in scholarship as yet, said Jeanne Fain.
Salvitti focused on the concept of “home” as more than a physical place. 

“I have a passion for creating more understanding of diverse cultures,” said Salvitti, who is the daughter of two European immigrant parents and fluent in French and English. Her academic interests include immigration issues in the k-8 classroom, such as multilingual children who struggle adjusting to a new environment.

“The picture books we analyzed demonstrated that many people in the books haven’t felt a sense of home since their lives were disrupted due to their immigration journey,” states the abstract for Salvitti’s paper. “They are often left without familiarity. The idea of home is within the immigrants and wherever they travel.”

One of the children's book used in Lipscomb's teacher preparation programs

The focus of Saakian’s analysis was the challenges of immigrants acclimating to the new and unfamiliar environment while they were crossing the border.

“I concentrated on the findings of the environment as connected to border crossing and traveling to a new location,” states the abstract for Saakian’s paper. “The analysis also included a focus on the challenge of finding oneself in and grappling with the unfamiliar environment.”

Saakian’s father is an Armenian immigrant, she is fluent in Russian and English and she is working toward a Spanish minor at Lipscomb.

Camden Fain’s main interest in the children’s books was the impact of the environment on the immigrants’ journey.

“I examined three picture books that portray how the immigration journey was impacted by the ever-changing environment. Water is often a connecting and powerful theme leading to a new home,” said the abstract for Fain’s analysis. “The findings from the visual analysis include an emphasis on the challenges of leaving a familiar environment, beginnings in an immigrant journey, the power of community and embarking on a difficult journey while often impacted by the environment.”

Jeanne Fain said the trio’s work is not only at a level that is publishable, but that it will also likely spark continued research efforts on her part to create a convenient tool that teachers can use to assess how culturally inclusive a particular book may be as they are developing their lesson plans. 

“Teachers want to be able to identify the inclusive aspects of the books so that they can zero in when using the book in their classrooms,” she said.

The student team will also present their findings at Lipscomb’s Student Scholars Symposium this April.

“This group of researchers thoughtfully used their skills as visual learners to conduct a carefully thought out visual analysis of immigration picture books. Their skills were leveraged to conduct a critical content analysis of the books in this project,” said Jeanne Fain. “I think it's easy to underestimate the phenomenal research skills that undergraduates possess. This project taught me to facilitate the research process with a specific framework and step back while watching them figure out how to approach their learning in this project.”

Stack of children's books used in Lipscomb's literacy curriculum
Global Voices

Fain, whose research interests focus on literacy, literature, and language study in K-12 classrooms, is also the director of Lipscomb's annual Global Voices conference, to be held on campus from 8:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on April 22. This professional development event, themed "The Power of Story" is free and provides local teachers with research-based instructional strategies, tip sheets and literature.

Register Here