Monday, May 5, 2008

What Kids Are Reading

In today's Washington Post, crack education writer Jay Mathews highlights a new report from Renaissance Learning titled "What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools." And it's fascinating stuff.

Jay Mathews' Post story is here, and the full report can be seen here. Watch out, the file is a biggie.

Data is broken down in a number of ways -- by grade level, geographic region, gender, and so on -- but for the most part, the same books keep rising to the top. For those of us who haven't read "kid's books" in a long time, it's nice to see so many familiar faces on the list, from Dr. Seuss and Judy Blume to S.E. Hinton and E.B. White. My Brother Sam Is Dead makes an appearance, as does To Kill A Mockingbird. And there are plenty of fun relatively new faces, too, like Louis Sacher and J.K. Rowling, along with sturdy new favorites like Lemony Snicket and Captain Underpants.

I'm delighted to see what kids are reading -- and to see that a lot of my old favorites are still being read today. My 11-year-old would probably argue for the inclusion of Peter Abrahams and his Echo Falls series, and I was hoping to see Beverly Cleary make a stronger showing, but you can't have everything.

It's discouraging, however, to see the average number of books read by students drop precipitously as they move into high school. Students read voraciously in the early grades -- averaging as many as 46 books per student in second grade -- then gradually sputter down to a pathetic 4.5 books read per year, per student, by the twelfth grade. And that number, I would guess, probably reflects the number of books students were required to read as part of their school curriculum. Once outside the reach of the classroom, students don't appear to be heading to the library, or to Borders, in search of entertainment or enlightenment. But when another recent survey showed that 53 percent of American adults don't read anything at all, do we really have the nerve to act surprised?

Read Renaissance Learning's report -- or at least read Jay Mathew's summary of it -- then tell me: What books were you surprised to see on the list? What were you surprised to not see? And what do you think can be done to keep kids reading into high school and beyond?