Bookworms with modern tastes

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Despite market research that suggests children are spending only one tenth of the time reading they do watching television, there is evidence that children's voluntary reading is flourishing, according to preliminary results from the biggest study of its kind for 20 years.

They may not be reading the classics in the same numbers that some children once did, but they are reading plenty of modern fiction designed for them, plus their parents' newspapers, adult books handed down by their mothers and acres of print that are linked to television, film and computer games.

Dr Martin Coles, of Notingham University's School of Education, is heading a WH Smith research project that is assessing the voluntary reading habits of 8,000 ten- to 14 year-olds. He says first results from the survey relate to the reading of magazines and comics. This shows many children reading three or four periodicals a week - lots of them spin-offs from the television programmes and computer games they enjoy. Some children read up to a dozen periodicals.

As for books, his team has input the names of 24,000 titles mentioned by children in the survey. "Children are not reading any less than they used to, although they are not reading the same things that they did once.

"Twenty years ago Little Women was the most popular book across all age ranges. That is extremely unlikely to be the most popular choice now." It's too early to say which is today's top book ... but it is more likely to be Power Rangers meet Sonic the Hedgehog.