This article offers an autoethnographic reconsideration of a primary school teacher’s practice and children’s interpretation of picturebooks in multicultural primary schools in England. It considers the balance teachers strike between respecting children’s rights to freedom of thought and expression, and wielding their own power as directors of learning. It links key aspects of international human rights law on children to concepts from literacy studies and multicultural children’s literature: representation of minority groups, pictorial interpretation, critical literacy and teacher power. It brings out nuanced interpretations of the picturebook The Arrival as a ‘mirror’ for learners from migrant backgrounds. This mirror may reflect children’s experiences but also offer a frosted, distorted or blank view where young learners do not empathise with characters. We argue that children’s rights within education should include freedom of thought and expression and freedom to interpret literature; teachers should reflect on their intentions when using literature, and not pose barriers to this freedom.
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