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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT


The books children are reading

Children now are reading more than their parents

Children are reading more books now than their parents did in the 70s - but girls are no longer as interested in becoming Little Women.

Today's youngsters are also reading a wider range of publications, including nearly a fifth of 12 year olds who read The Sun newspaper, making it more popular in this age group than The Beano.

A survey by academics at the University of Nottingham has investigated the reading habits of 8,000 children aged between 10 and 14 - matching a similar survey carried out by researchers in 1971.

[ image: Children are reading The Sun rather than comics such as The Beano]
Children are reading The Sun rather than comics such as The Beano
The survey, carried out in 1994-95, and set to be published this week, shows that there has been a slight increase in the average numbers of books read by children each month - from 2.39 to 2.52.

But there has been a clear shift in the type of book chosen by today's young readers. While the previous generation still favoured Victorian children's classics, the readers of the 90s prefer authors such as Roald Dahl and Sue Townsend.

In 1971, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott was the favourite book for 12-year-olds, while today's boys prefer The BFG by Roald Dahl and girls prefer the Point Horror series (written by a number of different authors).

Traditional children's stories such as Black Beauty, Heidi, Oliver Twist and Tom Sawyer, still enjoyed in the Seventies, have been ditched in favour of modern titles such as Babysitters' Club and Jurassic Park.

[ image: David Blunkett launched the National Year of Reading on the set of EastEnders]
David Blunkett launched the National Year of Reading on the set of EastEnders
Roald Dahl emerges as the clear children's laureate, featuring prominently in the preferences of both boys and girls, with such stories as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits and The Witches.

But traditionalists can take heart from the continued popularity of Enid Blyton. Although not featuring in the current top 10s for 12-year-olds, in terms of overall mentions among all year groups Enid Blyton was the second most popular author, following Roald Dahl.

Researchers also found that children were reading a wider range of materials, increasingly including newspapers and magazines not specifically aimed at children.

The Sun newspaper was read more widely among 12-year-olds than the Beano, and 12% of 10-year-olds said that they were Sun readers. The newspaper was particularly popular among boys looking for information about football. The 1971 girls' favourite magazine, Jackie, has been replaced by Just 17.

The research, published under the title Children's Reading Choices, was carried out by Dr Martin Coles and Dr Christine Hall.

Dr Coles says that the increase in reading reflects the wider range of books available, with publishers now being much more responsive than in the early 70s

However he says that the research found a clear distinction remained between the types of books preferred by boys and girls, with boys still preferring action and adventure while girls opted for romance and stories about relationships.

The evidence that children are reading more books comes in the National Year of Reading, a Department for Education initiative designed to encourage a greater interest in reading among all age ranges.

The top 10 books for 12-year-olds in 1971:

    Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
    Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
    Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Lion the With and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    Heidi by Johanna Spyri
    Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
    The Secret Seven by Ian Serraillier
    Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The top 10 books for 12-year-old girls in the 90s:

    Point Horror by various authors
    Sweet Valley series by Francine Pascal
    Babysitters Club by Ann M Martin
    Matilda by Roald Dahl
    The Witches by Roald Dahl
    The Twits by Roald Dahl
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
    Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend
    What Katy Did series by Susan Coolidge

Top 10 books for 12-year-old boys in the 90s:

    The BFG by Roald Dahl
    The Witches by Roald Dahl
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
    Point Horror series by various authors
    Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend
    Asterix series by Rene Goscinny
    Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
    The Twits by Roald Dahl
    The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

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