In Lewis Carroll’s (1871, 1992) well-known poem from Through the Looking Glass, “Jabberwocky”, nonsense words combine with known English words to create a whimsical effect appealing to readers of all ages. The words seem to gambol and dance in the ear as one imagines the valiant son with the bloody “vorpal sword” in one hand and the head of the monstrous Jabberwock in the other as he goes “galumphing” back to his father (Carroll,1871, 1992). Alice senses there is meaning in the poem but confesses that she cannot quite understand it. She exclaims, “‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas –only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate–’” (p. 182). Figuring out what words “mean”, or the interpretation of text, is a complex and contested undertaking. Like Alice, readers often sense that they grasp the meaning but certainty eludes them. Determining the meaning of a text or “comprehension” is a crucial issue for teachers at all levels. Although reading theorists fundamentally disagree on how reading should be taught, comprehension lies at the heart of reading instruction, regardless of which approach to reading one favors.

Born just after 1900, Louise M. Rosenblatt, literary critic and English educator, has powerfully influenced reading instruction for six decades. The purpose of this paper is to summarize Louise Rosenblatt’s transactional theory of reader response, to evaluate her work from a biblically informed frame of reference and to suggest practical implications for Christian teachers.