Zoella revealed as UK children’s favourite author

The biggest annual study into British children’s reading habits, authored by the University of Dundee’s Professor Keith Topping, has revealed that the most popular book for secondary school children is ‘Girl Online’ by vlogger Zoe Sugg aka Zoella.

Released today, ‘What Kids Are Reading’ reflects the impact of social media on children’s book choices, with Zoella’s 10 million YouTube subscribers helping ‘Girl Online’ to become the most popular book. The report from Renaissance Learning looks in detail at the reading habits of 725,369 children from 3,306 UK schools.

With the largest response to date, the eighth annual What Kids Are Reading report includes results from over 12 million comprehension quizzes on fiction and non-fiction titles taken by British school children in the last academic year. 

The ‘most read’ books indicate the amount of times a book was read in school, while the favourite charts give greater insight into what children actually enjoyed reading the most. This is based on a voting mechanism within the Renaissance Learning software, where children are invited to rate books once they have read them.

This year’s report shows that far from ‘dumbing down’, children choose more challenging books and read them with greater success than those books selected by their teachers.

Professor Topping said, Professor of Educational and Social Research  at the University, said, “This year’s findings reveal that, strikingly, children read their favourite books at a much higher level of difficulty and with a greater level of comprehension than those recommended to them.

“Clearly, this suggests a way of responding to the problem of insufficient challenge which is particularly prevalent in the secondary years. Instead of recommending books to children, teachers, librarians and parents should be finding ways to enable children to recommend books to each other.”

There is a stark contrast between the books that children read the most and those they vote for as their favourites.  While the ‘most read’ books feature one futuristic adventure author – The Hunger Games creator Suzanne Collins – the favourite book charts are almost exclusively dominated by this genre. In addition, two of the most popular authors among UK pupils, Rick Reardon and Cassandra Clare, do not feature at all in the ‘most read’ charts.

The ‘most read’ book at primary level is time honoured classic ‘The Twits’ by Roald Dahl, with the most popular being ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Launch Haul’ by Jeff Kinney. Children are also being encouraged to read Kinney at secondary school as the same book holds the ‘most read’ title at this level; however it is Girl Online by Zoella that takes the top spot for most popular book for secondary school children.

Key findings from the report include:

  • The ‘most read’ charts, across primary and secondary, only feature works from four authors – Roald Dahl, Jeff Kinney, David Walliams and Suzanne Collins.
  • Although Jeff Kinney holds first position in the favourite books for primary level, he has no other books in this chart. The dominant force is J.K. Rowling, who has five books in this chart and none within the secondary level.
  • The most read authors in the primary school charts are Roald Dahl, Jeff Kinney and David Walliams – in terms of position. However Dahl appears only twice, while Kinney and Walliams both appear four times.
  • With seven mentions in the top ten ‘most read’ chart, Jeff Kinney is clearly the most read author at secondary level.
  • A newcomer to the favourite chart at primary level is Jacqueline Wilson with ‘Opal Plumstead’.
  • The rankings also reveal that boys continue to prefer non-fiction and are therefore significantly under-challenged by their reading material.
  • At primary level, boys tend to focus more on one author they like, whereas girls tend to have more variety in their choices.

Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader quizzing software not only assesses which books are being read, it also tests children’s detailed comprehension of their chosen books. This year the report includes 25% more children than 2015, 34% more quizzes taken, with children reading 33% more words than last year.

James Bell, Director of Professional Services at Renaissance Learning, said, “What Kids are Reading serves as a true reflection of what kids really love to read, not just what we think they love to read. This year’s report highlights the evolving influence of social media on children’s reading habits and, with Girl Online already breaking the record for the highest ever first-week sales for a debut author since records began in 1998, it’s unsurprising that Zoella has hit the top spot this year.”

The full report can be accessed at www.whatkidsarereading.co.uk



For more information, please contact:

Annabel Parkinson, Mary Worrall or Hamish Armstrong at CubanEight

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Notes for Editors:

Renaissance Learning categorises every book using ATOS, the method by which the book’s readability is calculated.  ATOS scans every word in a book, analysing the length and difficulty of words and sentences to calculate the reading level of each book.  Using its Accelerated Reader software, children answer quizzes on each book they read, to assess how accurately they have read and understood the text.

Renaissance Learning has been established in the UK for over 15 years. It works with schools, teachers, parents and children to improve attainment in reading and maths, through the use of personalised practice to motivate students and immediate data for teachers to inform instruction and offer intervention when required. Accelerated Reader (AR) software has been adopted by over 40,000 schools worldwide, with many reporting an average of two years’ reading age growth in just one academic year. For more information visit: www.renlearn.co.uk/reading

About the ‘What Kids Are Reading’ report

‘What Kids Are Reading’ is an independent study written by Professor Keith Topping, Professor of Educational and Social Research, School of Education, University of Dundee and published by Renaissance Learning. Since the first edition, published in 2009, the report has captured information on a cumulative total of over 12 million books and 2 million students, to provide a detailed picture of what kids are actually reading and how their reading habits are changing.

About the author

Keith Topping is Professor of Educational and Social Research at Dundee University.

His published works exceed 300, with translations into 12 languages. Prior to entering Higher Education he worked for a number of Local Education Authorities and in Social Services and Health. Keith’s own main research focus is Peer Learning and other forms of non-professional tutoring (e.g. by parents, assistants or volunteers) – in core skills (e.g. reading, spelling, writing, thinking skills, science, mathematics and information technology) and across subject boundaries, in all sectors and contexts of education and lifelong learning.

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