Schoolchildren want to read books that make them LOL, according to new research

National reading challenge launches to boost ‘book culture’ in schools and gives school and pupils chance to win 100,000 books

Children would rather read books that make them laugh than stories featuring TV characters, research has revealed.

The research report [1], issued by Pearson to mark the launch of its Read for My School national reading competition (www.readformyschool.co.uk), found that one in five of the books chosen by 100,000 children in more than 3,000 schools were in the “Laugh out Loud” category.

The Read for My School annual competition, which kicks off this term, challenges pupils in England to read as many books as they can in two months – either online from a free digital library, or offline.

Children are encouraged to tackle at least one book from each of eight categories; Laugh out Loud/Humour, Film and TV, Historical, Mystery and Horror, Real Life, Adventure, Sci-fi and Fantasy and Animals and The Wild.

A review of last year’s competition found that humour was the main draw for thousands of primary age children when choosing what to read.

The genre proved to be more popular than any of the other seven on offer.

Nearly 81,000 of the books read were in the “Laugh out Loud” category beating the “Film and TV” genre in to second place (62,617 books read) despite the domination of TV in children’s lives.  Some of the most read authors in the Laugh Out Loud/Humour category included Roald Dahl, Jeremy Strong and Morris Gleitzman, with more books being added this year by authors like Frank Cottrell Boyce, Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah and Roger McGough.

The findings provide important information for schools and libraries which need to ensure that the books and online books they stock capture children's interests in an age when TV, video games and social networking are competing for attention.

International bestselling children’s author Jeremy Strong is an ambassador for the 2014 Read for My School competition. The writer, who has published over 30 humorous books including My Brother’s Famous Bottom and The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog, said:Adding a sense of fun to stories is one of the best ways to turn a child into a reader and gain a love of reading.  Funny stories are hugely effective in creating life-long readers. This is apparent from the very positive letters I regularly receive from parents, teachers and children themselves.”

Read for My School, now in its second year, was launched by Pearson with charities Booktrust and The Pearson Foundation, with support from the Department for Education, in a bid to help inspire children to discover the power of reading.

In recent years, concerns about children’s attitudes to reading have escalated as other activities in the digital age compete for their attention.

Research published by the National Literacy Trust [2] paints an increasingly worrying picture. It revealed that:

  • Since 2005, the number of children who said they read in their own time had fallen from 38% to just over a quarter (28.4%).
  • More than one in five (21.5%) children said that they were embarrassed to be seen reading, up from 16.6% two years ago.
  • While eight to 11-year-olds enjoyed reading more, read more often and think more positively about reading than older children, there was a significant drop in the proportion who read for pleasure or who read daily. Between 2011 and 2012, there was a 12% slide in the number of eight to 11-year- olds who said that they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot.
  • Children and young people in 2012 generally held more negative attitudes towards reading than just two years ago. The proportion claiming that they had trouble finding things to read that interested them rose from nearly a quarter (24%) in 2010 to 31.6% in 2012.

With a clear link between reading for pleasure and academic success, teachers and parents are keen to maintain their children’s interest in books.

The most recent research, published last year by the Institute of Education [3], London, found that children who read for pleasure made more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of 10 and 16 than those who rarely read.

The Read for My School report shows that participation in the competition helped to address some of the issues raised by the NLT survey and boosted children’s desire to read.

Two thirds of teachers surveyed at a sample of 700 schools that took part thought the competition had inspired their children to read for pleasure.

The same proportion said that children were more motivated to read by the prospect of winning books for themselves and their school.

Teachers reported the free online books, that can be read at school or at home, tapped in to pupils’ love of technology and motivated boys and less able children in particular to get reading.

Half of the books logged across the whole competition were read online. Some 85% of teachers said the free ebooks had boosted children’s participation.

Kristen Hounsell, a teacher at Bowbridge Primary and Nursery School, Nottinghamshire, said: “A number of our reluctant boy readers were accessing the online books during school time because they thought it was ‘much cooler’ to read like that.”

Because children were reading the same texts and passing on recommendations, pupils were more likely to discuss what they were reading, creating loads of excitement about books in school, teachers said.

Peter Hughes, head of corporate responsibility at Pearson, the world’s leading learning company, said: ”Read for My School is an exciting challenge that really appeals to primary and secondary-aged pupils.  It supports the valuable work teachers and school librarians are doing to encourage readers for life.”

“Technology is playing an increasingly important role in boosting the popularity of books and improving attitudes towards reading for pleasure among digitally literate school pupils. This competition is designed to actively encourage online participation throughout the challenge.”

For the first time this year, Read for My School, is open to primary pupils from Year 3 (seven and eight-year-olds) up to 11 year-olds and also as a national pilot children aged 11 to 13-years-old in the first and second year of secondary school (Years 7 and 8).

The programme and its expansion come in response to the new school curriculum which places more emphasis on the importance of reading widely for pleasure.

Children will have free access, via the Read for My School website www.readformyschool.co.uk, to a wide-ranging library of more than 100 online books and they will also be free to read and log books of their own choice offline.

At least one in five of the books in the online library are specifically written with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in mind, so that the competition helps to inspire readers of all abilities.

As part of the competition prize, 100,000 books will be distributed in prizes to individual children and schools.  A further donation of at least 100,000 books will be given to Book Aid International.  A new strand of the competition invites children to write a short letter to the children in Tanzania who will receive the books (via Book Aid International).

For further information

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Maria Boyle, MB Communications Ltd
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Mars Webb, MB Communications Ltd
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[1] The full Read for My School Progress Report can be found at readformyschool.co.uk
[2] National Literacy Trust 2013
[3] Institute of Education research http://www.ioe.ac.uk/89938.html