Children give up on the classics

CHILDREN ARE reading more than they were a generation ago but have abandoned 19th-century classics in favour of Roald Dahl and Sue Townsend.

In the Seventies, the favourite book for 10 to 14-year-olds was Little Women by Louisa M Alcott. In the Nineties, it is Dahl's The BFG. The only author to maintain a commanding position in both decades was Enid Blyton.

The findings, from a survey of nearly 8,000 children by researchers at Nottingham University, will be published on Thursday in a new book, Children's Reading Choices. Dr Christine Hall and Dr Martin Coles replicated a study done at Sheffield University in 1971.

On average, children of all ages surveyed in 1994-95 had read 2.52 books each in the month before the survey, compared with 2.39 in 1971. Only among 14-year-old boys has the amount of reading declined.

Dr Coles said yesterday: "There has been a big expansion in writing and marketing of books for children. They are getting more choice and they are choosing contemporary books. Children are buying books in supermarkets and at newsagents, and the cover of a Point Horror book looks more appealing than a Dickens.

"But a lot of classics are still being read: one in six among our top 200 is what most adults would consider a classic, often connected with a TV series.

"Children's taste in books is amazingly eclectic. One girl had read an Enid Blyton, Cinderella, a book on Having a Baby and a Beginners' Guide to Feminism in the previous month."

C S Lewis appears in the top 20 favourite authors for all ages in both surveys. Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie have slipped back in the Nineties but are still among the 30 most popular authors.

Bestsellers such as Harry Potter did not come out in time to be included. The authors argue: "A strong case can be made for the importance of ensuring that children are introduced to classic texts in schools since they do not feature prominently in their voluntary reading choices."

Among older pupils, the comics of the Seventies have given way to magazines and newspapers. More 12-year-olds (18 per cent) read The Sun than The Beano (12 per cent). By the age of 10, 12 per cent of children are reading The Sun.

Just 17 is the most popular magazine for teenage girls. In the Seventies, it was Jackie. Teenage girls' magazines today assume a "sexual knowingness" that adults may find uncomfortable but not more so than an evening's television viewing, says the book.

They are also "textually quite rich" and "potentially educative".

Boys are reading more magazines than they did 25 years ago: their favourites cover football and computers.

Dr Coles said: "Schools need to recognise what children read out of school. Boys who say they can't read are reading periodicals densely packed with information and statistics. Schools put too much emphasis on narrative." He suggested that the diet of narrative girls thrived on at school might not equip them for work.

Children's Reading Choice by Christine Hall and Martin Coles, Routledge, pounds 12.99.

Favourite Reading of the 1970s

Top ten books for 12-year-olds

in the Seventies

Little Women Louisa M. Alcott

Black Beauty Anna Sewell

Treasure Island R. L. Stevenson

Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe C. S. Lewis

Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

Heidi Johanna Spyri

Oliver Twist Charles Dickens

The Secret Seven Enid Blyton

The Silver Sword Ian Serraillier

Tom Sawyer Mark Twain

Top ten books for 12-year-old girls in the Nineties

Point Horror series Various

Sweet Valley series Francine Pascal

Babysitters Club Ann M. Martin

Matilda Roald Dahl

The Witches Roald Dahl

The BFG Roald Dahl

The Twits Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

Adrian Mole Sue Townsend

What Katy Did series Susan Coolidge

Favourite Reading of the 1990s

Top ten books for 12-year-old boys in the Nineties

The BFG Roald Dahl

The Witches Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

Point Horror series Various

Adrian Mole series Sue Townsend

Asterix series Rene Goscinny

Jurassic Park Michael Crichton

The Twits Roald Dahl

Matilda Roald Dahl

The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Central London - £45,000-£55,000 + bonus

£45000 - £55000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: The focus of this is to deve...

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape