What Are Kids Reading?

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photo-1The title of the report was too intriguing to pass up: What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools. Renaissance Learning, the sponsoring organization, is “a technology-based educational company with a primary focus on accelerating K-12 learning.”  The magazine-style publication arrived quickly, but I put it aside until my deck was open for the summer, and I had some uninterrupted time to read – with an icy Starbucks beverage in hand!

Not too many surprises, but always interesting to get a sense of the reading landscape. Here’s what I learned:

– Kids read what’s on the big screen. During the 2011-2012 school year, they read The Lorax, The Hunger Games, and high school students read The Help.

– Motivating kids to read is a “result of the interaction of three conditions: 1. a student’s interest and experiences, 2. a book or article that matches those needs and interests, and 3. a student’s success in reading.”  Every good teacher and school librarian knows this, but there are days when connecting all of those dots can be tricky. For me, the challenge is a student who wants to read “up.” Because their friend is reading The Lightning Thief, they want to read it.  The risk is that the student isn’t successful with the book – which naturally further discourages an already struggling reader.

– “High-interest books motivate students to read.”  No news there, but take a look at much of the nonfiction being published for elementary students and you will see this in action. I met with a sales rep recently and was struck by how many pages of informational books look like they have been covered in photos and post-it notes. Engaging and interesting, yes. The upside is that sometimes the web page-like design of these books can spark an interest or inspire connections. The downside is evident when a student is presented with more complex text. When a student asks for research assistance, I start by giving them a few books. Almost every time, when I point out a relevant chapter, their response is: “do I have to read all of that?”

– The data from Renaissance Learning includes “book-reading records for more than 8.6 million students from 27,240 schools nationwide who read more than 283 million books during the 2011-2012 school year.”  A pretty good sample size!   So….what books are they reading?  The report breaks it down by grade level and between 1st and 8th grade, the results look like this:

– First Grade – Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss  (a few Biscuit titles make are in the Top 10. Biscuit is an awesome puppy – and very popular with Inly students who are learning to read.)

– Second Grade – Green Eggs and Ham is #1 here too, but followed by Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

– Third Grade – Interesting. Diary of  Wimpy Kid books hold the first SIX slots on the list. But, if you separate the girls and the boys, a different story. For boys the Wimpy Kid rules. Girls – The top five books include Charlotte’s Web and a wonderful picture book, Boom Town by Sonia Levitin.  Clearly, the girls, in this case, are, as Charlotte would say, “Terrific!”

– Fourth Grade – The Wimpy Kid rules!

– Fifth Grade – The Wimpy Kid continues his domination, but Katniss Everdeen is starting to creep up the list.  The Hunger Games is #4…

– Sixth Grade – Wimpy Kid and Katniss Everdeen. But other titles for grade 5 and 6 include The Lightning Thief, Hatchet, Holes, Harry Potter, and Frindle

– Seventh Grade – Finally, The Hunger Games takes the #1 position!  But the Wimpy Kid is still there, along with The Outsiders and many books by Rick Riordan

– Eighth Grade – same story with the addition of Twilight, Matched, and The Giver

Just for fun, after reading the report, I asked our 1st and 2nd grade students to name their favorite books. The responses included Dr. Seuss and Biscuit, but also….Mo Willems!  Any book by Mo Willems would take the top spot at Inly. The Pigeon books, Elephant and Piggie, Knuffle Bunny. There is no limit to the love our students have for these characters. As my sample group gushed about Mo Willems’ books, one student said: “Don’t forget Frog and Toad.” Forget two of the greatest characters in the world of children’s books? Never!

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