Classics & Stuff

I’m beginning to feel like a Renaissance Learning pimp (they’re the parent company of the AlphaSmart Neo), but they’ve sponsored an interesting, in-depth look at kids’ reading habits, and I’m going to link to it anyway. The Washington Post has a summary article on the findings:

Children have welcomed the Harry Potter books in recent years like free ice cream in the cafeteria, but the largest survey ever of youthful reading in the United States will reveal today that none of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular books has been able to dislodge the works of longtime favorites Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Harper Lee as the most read.

Books by the five well-known U.S. authors, plus lesser-known Laura Numeroff, Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen, drew the most readers at every grade level in a study of 78.5 million books read by more than 3 million children who logged on to the Renaissance Learning Web site to take quizzes on books they read last year. Many works from Rowling’s Potter series turned up in the top 20, but other authors also ranked high and are likely to get more attention as a result.

I don’t know that I find this terribly surprising, and I’m curious what people think about. It seems to me that the big flaw is it’s based on accelerated reader quiz data–which tells you what kids are reading for credit, off I’m assuming lists of acceptable books, but not what they choose themselves outside school. (If I’m wrong about how that works, someone please let me know.)

Bonus: reflections on reading are included in the full report from Daniel Handler, S.E. Hinton, and Christopher Paul Curtis.

Addition: Just skimming through the findings, especially in the top 10 percent numbers, there are more and more genre titles the older the kids get.

2 thoughts on “Classics & Stuff”

  1. A couple of things caught my eye in this article. First, that they referred to Numeroff, Paulson and Paterson as “lesser known”. In Paulson’s case in particular I thought that was odd. Hatchet has been one of the biggest selling books for boys for years (and years and years). We couldn’t keep his books on the shelves in the bookstore where I worked (and he was always on the Battle of the Books list).
    Second there is no way to measure what books were assigned and which ones read for pleasure. So you are stuck wondering just how many kids really loved “Mockingbird” and how many just knew a lot about it from school. Not that it matters much, but it skews the results a bit as they aren’t all writing about the latest Gossip Girls, etc. title. (Which we know from sales figures are getting read big time.)
    Finally, the low numbers for high school students – only reading 4 books in a year? I don’t think you could take an average English class and only read 4 books in the course of a year and certainly not an AP course. So I’m confused over that one. I’d love to see what their reasoning is for that.

  2. I know — weird, right? Although I remember loving Mockingbird when I read it, so maybe some of these books they do love AND have to read for school. (Actually, I loved a lot of these — it does disturb me a little how many are the Exact Same Books that were being pushed for those age groups when I was kid. Especially with the amazing stuff that’s been written since. It has a good side and a bad one. I’d hope there’s room for both.)
    It seemed pretty clear after I looked through the numbers that the upper grades just don’t have as many people using the accelerated reader stuff for tracking. If you look at the aggregate records, the middle grades have a much, much larger pool of students they’re taking data from. So I suspect that’s the main issue, and maybe even that of the few kids they are capturing there, it’s just the four books they discuss in-depth in class or something.

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