What are kids–your audience–reading today?
“The Accelerated Reader Real Time database includes book-reading records for more than 8.6 million students from 27,240 schools nationwide who read more than 283 million books during the 2011-2012 school year.”
Renaissance Learning, the folks who do the Accelerated Reader program and testing, has just issued the 2013 report, “What Kids are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools.” It uses the data collected from millions of AR-reading tests to report on what kids have actually read this past year. Of course, the caveat is that these are also books they tested on, and therefore may not give the clearest picture of leisure reading. An AR-test must exist and a school must have it available for a student to test on the book; students often read books that they don’t test on.
Classics. Overwhelmingly, classics rule (think Dr. Seuss), followed by high-profile books, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. One interesting dataset lists the Caldecott and Newberry winners and shows their ranking among 1-5 graders. The Caldecott winners languish, with only three titles breaking into the top 100: Officer Buckle and Gloria at #17; Where the Wild Things Are at #20; The Polar Express at #50; and, The Snowy Day at #62.
For the Newbery Award winners, nothing before 1960 made it into the top 100 list for 6th-8th graders. However, they fared better, with twelve Newbery titles on the list: The Giver at #11; Number the Stars at #14; Holes at #17; Maniac Magee at #41; Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry at #40; Bud, Not Buddy at #43; Bridge to Terabithia at #47; Island of Blue Dolphins at #63; The Westing Game at #65; Walk Two Moons at #72; Out of the Dust at #95; and, A Wrinkle in Time at #96.
Overall, books that receive national exposure by being made into a movie were hits: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, rising from #210th most popular to #28 this year for third graders; The Help by Kathryn Stockett, from #1273 last year to #24 among high schoolers; and, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which had done well in high school and middle school in previous years, but this year jumped from #1478 to #24 in fourth grade and from #92 to #4 in fifth grade.
Text complexity in early 20th century for required reading in high school was about 9.0 ATOS, but has dropped to about 6.0 ATOS.
CCSS Exemplar texts were popular. The report states “. . .examining the popularity of the CCSS exemplars revealed that, although not intended to be used as a curriculum, almost all of the Informational Texts and Stories Exemplars were read by a slightly greater proportion of students in 2011-12 than the prior school year, suggesting the new standards may be influencing both curricular choices and less formal recommendations.”
These are fascinating pieces of data. The information is broken into favorites by grade and gender. You can also download these reports:
- Top 100 Nonfiction Books Read by ATOS Book Level Range, Grades 1-12
- Top 100 Fiction Books Read by ATOS Book Level Range, Grades 1-12
- Top 25 Spanish Books Read, Grades 1-12
Here’s an infographic from RenLearing.
It would also be an interesting project to cross-reference this material with Scholastic’s 2013 Kids and Family Reading Report, which analyzes data from a survey of families about what kids are reading.
How Does the Top 100 List Affect Your Writing?
Backlist is your real competition. First, realize that your real competition for kids’ attention isn’t today’s books, but the backlist. In schools, it takes time for teachers to fall in love with your book, develop lesson plans and incorporate it into the culture. If you can write a book that passes that gauntlet, you’re likely to have real staying power. Winning a major award might help, but the majority of award winners, have fallen off the charts.
Humor rules. Really. If you read over the list of top 100 books for the younger grades, it’s humor all the way. From Dr. Seuss to Laura Numeroff, kids like funny books. Jeff Kinney and Dav Pilkey combined capture ten of the top 20 for fourth grade. You may not win the Newbery for a funny book, but you might find your place in the classroom.
Trade Books rule. And lest you think that means you should look to educational publishers, look again. Most of these titles are from trade publishers.
Teen Books. Write on a teen level. In 8th grade, The Outsiders still ranks #3. Maybe that’s because it gets assigned by teachers, but it’s still popular with kids.
Nonfiction Popular Books
Also available is the Top 100 list of nonfiction titles. Accelerated Reader’s strength isn’t nonfiction, but it’s still interesting to see what titles turned up.
Grades 1-3. Nature/animal books, biographies and titles related to English Language Arts (such as #12, Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective? by Brian P. Cleary) were most popular. For example, Penguin Chick was #1, The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle was #2, How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz was #3, and Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr by Doreen Rappaport was #4.
Grades 4-5. Biography and history edge out nature/animal books. For example, Finding the Titanic by Robert D. Ballard is #4, and Nights of the Pufflingsby Bruce McMillan is #9.
Grades 6-9. Biographies (including tales of faith) and history compete well at this level. Nature/animals lose traction, except for a few true tales or a few books on predators. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo is at #2 and Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton is #3. Seymour Simon’s book, Sharks is #18.
Grades 9-12. History dominates the top 100 list here. It’s true that Snakes by Kelly L. Barth is #2, but it’s the only nature/animal book listed until Snake by Chris Mattison at #86. At #3 is An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy; it seems that medical issues have replaced animal/nature books for these grade levels. It’s followed by the #4 title, 10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War, by Phillip Caputo, reflecting a real interest in deep history topics.