Animals and nature are top page-turners for children across generations, says new reader research

Booktime delivers 1.36 million free books to children starting primary school in England

New research published today (19 October 2010) reveals that animals and nature are the favourite reading topics for both children and their parents. The research, commissioned to coincide with over 1.3 million books being given to 4 – 5 year-old children as part of the Booktime programme, found that animals are the favourite subject matter for more than half (52%) of children. 49% of parents also said animals were their favourite thing to read about when they were growing up, suggesting that books with animal characters and environmental themes are enjoyed across the generations.

Now in its fifth successful year, Booktime will give a free book pack to every reception-aged child in England this autumn as a gift from Pearson, the world’s leading learning company. This year’s book pack will follow an environmental theme, featuring a copy ofSlowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth by legendary author and illustrator Eric Carle. The packs will also include Why is the Sky Blue? by Geraldine Taylor and illustrated by Amy Schimler, the perfect starting point for parents and children to explore those big questions about the world.

Booktime’s research, which polled over 1,500 parents and carers across the UK, also showed that reading books featuring animal characters motivates children to find out more about the natural world: 44% of children are inspired to want to go to a farm, zoo or safari park to see the animals for themselves. 90% of respondents stated that reading books about animals increases their child’s interest in the natural world and more than half of Britain’s parents report that their children are more inquisitive about animals and nature after reading a book on the subject.

One of the reasons for this enduring call of the wild was hinted at elsewhere in the research with parents and carers overwhelmingly agreeing that animal and nature themed books help their children to make sense of human feelings, relationships and the world around them.

Key findings:

  • 42% of parents say that reading about animals and the natural world inspires their children to read more books. This figure rises to 48% in the North East.
  • 97% of parents find that reading books encourages their child to talk with them about new things.
  • 67% of parents find family discussions useful in exploring their children’s questions about the natural world: 58% turn to books for answers.
  • 92% of parents and carers feel that reading books where animals are the main characters can help children to make sense of human feelings, experiences and relationships.
  • 90% of parents state that reading books about animals increases their child’s interest in the natural world. Parents in the North West are most likely to agree, with 93% stating books increase their children’s interest in the wider world – this is the highest in the UK.

Eric Carle, author of “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth:

“I love all animals, and have since I was a boy when I used to go on walks with my father. I hope that my books can help children to develop a love of the natural world so that they will treasure and care for their environment. I am happy to be working with Booktime to inspire a love of reading that will lead children to engage with their world and every living thing in it.”

Researchers asked parents to tell them some of the most difficult and funny questions they had been posed by their children and the responses ranged from the challenging to the funny to the downright bizarre:

  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Why is water wet?
  • Do dolphins drink water?
  • Why are there no dinosaurs anymore?
  • How high can cows jump?
  • How does the moon stay in the sky?
  • Was the orange named after the colour, or the colour after the fruit?
  • Why doesn’t the dog use the toilet?
  • Was the world in black and white when you were young?
  • Can I be a vampire when I grow up?
  • Do you need a passport to travel to the moon?

Geraldine Taylor’s Why is the Sky Blue?is a compilation of questions asked by inquisitive children; a special shortened edition of the title was produced specifically for Booktime.

Animal character books featured in the research as the favourite books for both children and adults, with one of Eric Carle’s classic titles appearing on both lists:

Children’s favourite books 2010

  1. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
  3. Peppa Pig – Ladybird Books
  4. Mr Men series – Roger Hargreaves
  5. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen

Parents’ favourite children’s books (when they were 5 years old)

  1. Mr Men series – Roger Hargreaves
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
  3. The Snowman – Raymond Briggs
  4. Thomas the Tank Engine – Wilbert Awdry
  5. Just So Stories – Rudyard Kipling

As well as inspiring inquisitiveness and intellectual curiosity, books help to fuel children’s interest in interacting with the natural world. After reading books about or featuring animals, nearly half of 10 year olds ask for a pet while 17% of children say they would like to be a vet when they grow up.

World famous primatologist Jane Goodall who wrote the foreword to “Slowly Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth:

“I’m told I was already watching insects and in love with our dog from before I could talk. Mum got books about animals knowing I would learn to read quickly in order to read them! Reading is so good for the imagination. When I was a child there was no TV and books were the only window to the wide world. Today it is even more important to stimulate the imagination. My mother always told me that if I was disappointed or sad, I could go into another world through reading. It still, for me, is a way of experiencing another world.”

To help encourage a lifelong love of reading, 1.36 million free books will be given to schoolchildren in England through the free books programme Booktime, administered by independent literary charity Booktrust in partnership with Pearson.The programme promotes reading for pleasure at an important transition stage in children’s learning and development.

Inspired by Bookstart, the free books programme for babies and toddlers, Booktime will distribute 680,000 book packs to children in over 17,000 primary schools across England. Over 25,000 resource packs will be given to schools and libraries in England to support the programme.

Geraldine Taylor, author of Why is the Sky Blue?and BBC Wildlife Writer of the Year 2000:

“As a mother and wildlife author, and as a mental health professional, I know how important wildlife is to us all. We have to love the planet, and know things about it, in order to be committed to helping it in realistic ways. In my wildlife work with children and families, I’ve noticed that it’s the small details that captivate the curiosity; the melody of a blackbird; the way that rabbits’ ears move; watching bees weigh down the petals of flowers to make a landing stage. Books are a gateway to learning so much more about the world. It is this lively curiosity and joy of discovery that Why is the Sky Blue? celebrates.”

Ends

For more information

National media
Will White (Booktrust)
020 8875 4583
07826 937 474

Alice Ingall (Booktrust)
020 8875 4827
07870 636 099

Regional media:
Claire Richman
020 7361 7862

Interview opportunities are available with:

  • Geraldine Taylor, author of Why is the Sky Blue?

Notes to Editors

Booktime 2010 Research
Independent research was conducted on behalf of Booktime. Over 1,500 UK parents of primary school aged children took part in the quantitative research while six children and their parents also took part in focus groups. This was conducted during August 2010. A combination of online and telephone research techniques were used to ensure a representative sample of the UK population was approached. For a fuller account of the findings and regional breakdowns, please consult the accompanying executive summary.

About Booktime
Booktime is a national programme that promotes reading for pleasure and encourages family engagement in shared reading at an important transition stage in children’s learning and development. Booktime encourages children, parents and carers to read together for pleasure by giving a free book pack to children starting primary school. Booktime also aims to reach children not accessing mainstream education, through local authority contacts and social inclusion coordinators. For more information and a range of downloadable activities and games, log on to www.booktime.org.uk. The site features activities and games as well as videos, competitions, blogs and book recommendations

About Pearson
Pearson is the world’s leading learning company. Its major businesses are: Pearson, the world's biggest education business, providing print and digital learning materials and services used by more than 100 million students of all ages every year; The Financial Times Group, which has an international network of business and financial newspapers and online services that are read by millions of business executives and investors every day; and Penguin Group, which is one of the pre-eminent names in consumer publishing, with an unrivalled range of fiction and non-fiction, bestsellers, and classic titles. Through its books, newspapers and online products and services, Pearson helps people of all ages to live and learn. www.pearson.com

Since 2006, Pearson’s UK staff have been giving their time to read with children in local primary schools through its Booktime Volunteer Reading Scheme. In 2009, 266 volunteers spent over 3000 hours (the equivalent of 508 working days) reading with children.

About Booktrust
Booktrust is an independent charity dedicated to encouraging people of all ages and cultures to engage with books. The written word underpins all our activity and enables us to fulfil our vision of inspiring a lifelong love of books for all. Booktrust is responsible for a number of successful national reading promotions, sponsored book prizes and creative reading projects aimed at encouraging readers to discover and enjoy books. These include the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Children’s Laureate, the Booktrust Teenage Prize and Bookstart, the national programme that works through locally based organisations to give a free pack of books to young children, with guidance materials for parents and carers. See www.booktrust.org.uk.