I was disappointed in the findings of the latest Pearl report into the reading habits of children across the world. This survey is carried out every five years and the latest results are based on findings in 50 countries measuring the amount of ten year olds that regularly read for pleasure.
My disappointment stems from the fact that my country, England, has dropped to tenth in the table. Russia is rated number one. Immediately above us is Latvia. In 2002 England was number three behind the Netherlands and Sweden.
The reasons for this decline are simple and apparent. Parents, when surveyed, were found to be less likely to spend time reading to their children than was the case a few years ago. And of course, computer games are considered far more cool than books! England incidentally, tops the league for the percentage of children which spend more than three hours each day playing games.
Interesting then, that sales of books written for children are at an all time high!
Children that do read tend to prefer series of books. They like to follow the adventures of a particular character. This gives authors a dilemma. Should they continue to write for a particular age group, or does the main character grow up with the reader? The biggest selling books are in the latter category, and it could be said that new characters are not being created for youngsters who are just starting to read unaided.
The computer game does of course have an important place in the lives of young people. Not so many years ago kids spent their play time out of doors. Then they played cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, shooting each other with toy guns. Parents today are less willing to let their children play outside, and these games are played out on machines rather than in the great outdoors. And of course the bad guys aren’t ‘injuns‘ but aliens! And this takes place when they might otherwise be reading.
Today there is less reading at home, the literacy hour in school has been dropped, and one in five kids leaving primary school are unable to read. The decline in reading for pleasure should not come as much as a surprise. It remains however, disappointing.