Days of children reading books 'are numbered'

The days of children reading traditional books are numbered, claims the man spearheading a campaign to improve literacy in schools.

Publishers must adapt titles to the demands of modern young readers who spend more time on the internet if they are to succeed in persuading the next generation to read, says Jonathan Douglas, the director of the National Literacy Trust.

He made his remarks as researchers prepared to tell a conference starting today that children's reading habits slump dramatically after they start at secondary school. The typical eight-year-old reads nearly 16 books a year but, by the time they reach 15 or 16, this has dwindled to just over three books per year. The big drop-off starts after the first year of secondary school, when the number of books read falls from nearly 12 a year to just six.

The study, based on interviews with nearly 30,000 pupils aged seven to 16, also shows a growing trend towards reading comics, magazines, newspapers and online articles, and playing computer games, after the first year at secondary school.

"Reading books does not maintain the strength of its hold on young people as an activity," Mr Douglas said. "It begins to diminish from the age of 11. Publishers and the book trade must reinvent the book. They have to produce more graphic novels. Children are much more visually conscious than they were before – and the book trade must reflect this.

"Reading is not a static activity. It has always changed from one generation to another, depending on where literacy skills sat within society and what texts were available and why."

A research paper entitled What Kids Are Reading, by Professor Keith Topping of Dundee University, will be presented to a national conference on literacy and numeracy in Stansted today. It also reveals marked differences in the books that girls and boys choose to read.

Among pre-teen girls, Jacqueline Wilson is overwhelmingly their favourite author. Her books explore growing up and teenage relationships and emotional development. Boys prefer adventure stories such as J K Rowling's Harry Potter novels and children's books by Roald Dahl.

Many respondents did not believe they were engaging in reading if they were scanning items online. Mr Douglas said: "Twenty-nine per cent did not see themselves as readers but they were spending a vast amount of time reading online.

"They thought reading only related to books. This shows we will have to develop new strategies for promoting reading to children in future."

One way would to do this would be to ensure that more classic books and novels were made available online with illustrations, he added.

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