Missing the point: reading for the sheer pleasure of it

The other day, I was in the aisles of WH Smith’s book section when I overheard a conversation between a parent and her child, which went something like this:

‘Well, just pick one! We haven’t got much time, so what do you want?’
The little girl was looking up at the picture book shelves a little sheepishly. She responded, ‘I don’t know, there are so many…’
The parent then picked one off the shelf and gave it to her. ‘Here, this one will do, won’t it?’
‘But it’s too tricky!’ said the girl.
‘Well, how about this one then?’ she pulled another from the shelf and handed it to her.
‘That’s the same. I can’t read it…’
To this, the lady seemed to lose her temper and said ‘Fine!’ before putting the book back on the shelf and leading the girl from the store.

Chossing booksI realise I’m in no position to judge when it comes to this sort of situation. Having no children of my own, I can not imagine the day-to-day challenges a parent faces in terms of time and energy when they want to give their child the best they can: I think it was great that the mother was taking the time to try to get a book for her child in the first place. But I also thought the way she went about it might have had more of a negative effect on the little girl’s likelihood to want to keep reading as she gets older.

From this shop experience it seemed that, from the little girl’s point of view, she’s now been told that she should struggle ahead to read the books that she thinks are too tricky for her, or she won’t get a book at all. She’s also been told that she did something wrong by not being able to make a very quick decision about which book to choose, and was punished by not getting anything. But from the parent’s point of view, she did want to get her child a book but just didn’t have the time to stand around all day waiting for her to choose something. So was anyone to blame?

What this pointed out to me was the way that challenging circumstances and parents’ lack of time may be a contributing factor in the decline in reading for pleasure amongst children today. It’s probably not new – countless research efforts by the likes of Scholastic and the National Literacy Trust have considered such factors in their approaches to literacy research. So I wasn’t surprised by some of the points made by Egmont in their latest press release about their Reading Street Consumer Insight research.

In it, they highlight how lifestyle can simply get in the way of the time parents have to encourage their children to read and affects the importance they place on reading as something that should be done just for pleasure:

“The first chapter of our new Reading Street report into children’s reading reveals that some of the key benefits of reading for pleasure in childhood are being over-looked because of a challenging set of circumstances faced by families and the way we live today.”

Is the lack of time given by parents to portraying every step of a child’s reading – from choosing a book to reading a book – as an enjoyable experience having a detrimental effect on children’s perceptions of reading?

Egmont point out the fact that the benefits of reading for pleasure as seen by parents taking part in their study are purely educational and developmental, as opposed to anything to do with the pure pleasure of reading. They make a good point of saying that this may be a mistake – are we overlooking a real benefit of reading here? Their aim now is to find out how and why reading thrives in some families and to use this to determine how to inspire children to read.

I for one am looking forward to learning more about Egmont’s research results. The publisher really stands out to me, alongside such children’s publishers as Scholastic, for the contributions they make to the literacy landscape. I love the way they provide advice on their website pages about the benefits of reading at different ages and how to make choosing books easier (as well as publishing this useful guide for parents). Perhaps more advice like this is needed, or simply more awareness amongst parents, so that scenes like the one I saw in WH Smith become a little less frequent…

A real treat of recent releases

I thought I’d wrote a quick post about some picture book titles that I’ve come across in the past fortnight and thought would be worth a shout-out. So, if you’re looking for an Easter present for this weekend that will last a little longer than ten seconds before it’s devoured, why not pick up one of these treats?:

The Disgusting SandwichThe Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards (Alison Green Books)

A hungry badger races to get his paws on a sandwich, but it repeatedly escapes him at every step… This is a fantastically illustrated book with extra little stories in the pictures, providing that priceless re-readability  – allowing you to see new things each time you read it. There are lots of little interactions between different animals – from foxes to squirrels – all taking place in one park. I love the way the sandwich is portrayed in such a gruesome, stinky way, and how the ending is icky enough to make children and adults giggle. And you’ve really got to feel for the poor badger! If you’re looking for a squirm and a chuckle, then this is perfect.

Look out, ladybird!Look Out, Ladybird! by Jack Tickle (Little Tiger Press)

This title’s about a ladybird who’s learning to fly and finding that she’s more than just a little bit clumsy at it! The words are great in this book – they’re the type of imaginative, rounded words that children want to repeat. I liked the use of such phrases as ‘tickled Tiger’s tum’ and ‘bopped your banana’, conveying the way the ladybird is clumsily falling through the air, and the zig-zag movement of the words on a page. The story shows that it can be tricky learning something new, but you always get there eventually… and the little wink from the ladybird at the end is a nice touch!

Oh no, George!Oh no, George! by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

A book about a dog called George who’s trying extra hard to be good but is tempted by everything around him. It’s a great little tale about a dog and his owner, which I’m sure young children will be able to relate to their own pets. The pictures in this title are fantastic – even though I found the illustrations on the pages where he does something naughty a little bit unclear and crowded with colour (just me being picky), the body language really makes the story. And the ending is superb – it just sums up how much can be conveyed through a picture alone. A definite favourite of mine.

 If you have any ideas of titles you would like me to consider for review or recommendation on here, or just a title you that was great and want the world to know about, feel free to get in touch: spotunderthetree(at)gmail.com

Please note: Any books I recommend on here are purely down to my personal opinion – I have no obligation to any particular publisher to advertise their work. This blog contains nothing but my own words, unless stated.

The New Scholastic Research Results: a flashback to my dissertation

Earlier today, the Bookseller reported on the findings of the new Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report (4th edition). It’s a report that’s been conducted since 2006, based on a survey of adults and children in the US (1,074 children between 6 and 17 in this one), giving useful insight into reading habits and trends.

The results didn’t really come as a surprise to me, having read their previous reports from the last few years, but some of the statistics are of interest – especially those concerning rates of reading for pleasure. It’s an area of interest to me, having spent so much of my time looking into it during research for my MA dissertation last year.

E-books

The report seemed to primarily focus on e-books:

  • Although there was a sharp rise in the amount of children who had read an e-book (46% of children in this study as opposed to 25% of children in their 2010 study), 80% of the children still did most of their reading from print books.
  • The main time a print book came across as preferable to an e-book was at bedtime and for reading along with friends, whereas e-books were seen as useful for reading when travelling or when they didn’t want friends knowing what they were reading.

Of interest to me, was that 21% of the children who had access to e-books said that they were now reading more books for pleasure. Moreover, the report found that ‘half of children age 9–17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to e-books – a 50% increase since 2010’. Does this point to e-books being directly beneficial for encouraging increased reading for pleasure in children?

Reading for pleasure

New scholastic research However, the number of children in the survey who read for pleasure between 5-7 times a week (considered to be ‘frequent readers’) decreased from 37% in their 2010 survey to 34% in this recent survey. Although not a huge decrease, it is still notable that there continues to be a decrease at all.

There can be many reasons for this. In fact, it was one of the key areas for my MA research. The reasons for the amount of time (or lack thereof) a child spends reading for pleasure are vast – and are partly believed to be based on children’s perceptions of reading – such as the importance they place on reading for pleasure. It can be due to parental influence (e.g. whether their parents visibly read or not); access to books (e.g. money to buy books); time (e.g. versus time spent doing homework); competitive media (e.g. leisure time spent playing video games, on computers, watching TV) and much more.

The additional finding that younger children are more likely to read for pleasure than those in the older age bracket is not new. In fact, this is known to be around the difficult ‘transition’ age, where children move from primary to high school and adjust their reading preferences – sometimes finding it difficult to move from one age level of literature to another. But, again, there are also many other reasons why children’s interest in reading for pleasure declines with age.

A potential link? The focus of my work…

In their previous reports, they found that children’s use of media – including social media – increased with age, documenting this right through from 6 to 17 years old. But, in this report, they only seem to have reported on the 12 to 17 year age-range. Still, the increase is there.

In my work, I noticed that the previous reports (as well as reports by the National Literacy Trust in the UK), documented this rate of reading for pleasure decreasing with age whilst the rate of other media consumption increased (e.g. social media, playing games, using a mobile phone). I therefore began wondering whether there might be a way to tackle this potential link…

This is what led to me coming up with the idea of a platform that would utilise children’s growing interests in other media to engage them with reading for pleasure after the age of 8. I looked into what drew them to this other media, and found another potential link between the importance placed by children on social interaction as they grew older and the other media they were using. I conducted research for my platform concept with children across libraries and schools and came up with some interesting results – with an extremely enthusiastic audience reaction to my concept. The research is now being used by The Reading Agency as they develop a similar model.

Importance

Scholastic’s research was instrumental in me putting two and two together to come up with this idea, which I hope will be of some use. Reading for pleasure is directly linked with literacy and academic achievement and also has an influence on a person’s economic and social wellbeing, so efforts to promote it are of paramount importance. Such reports by Scholastic, as well as such bodies as the National Literacy Trust, are of use to everyone involved in the effort to improve literacy rates in the UK and abroad – whether it achieves a deeper understanding of the issues or provides new ideas for tackling them. However, with this new survey documenting an increase in the number of parents concerned about the time their children spend reading for pleasure (up to 47% from 36% in 2010), it’s clear that much more still needs to be done…

Read the full report here: http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/kfrr