Children reading more books thanks to social media trends, research suggests

Girl reading

The number of books children read increased by almost a quarter last year as social media trends such as TikTok help shape reading habits, according to the latest research.

The 2023 What Kids Are Reading Report looked at nearly 1.3 million pupils across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, including more than 40,000 in Scotland.

It found that pupils read 27,265,657 books in the 2021-2022 academic year which was 24% more than the 2020-2021 academic year.

Researchers also found that social media trends such as BookTok, a community on TikTok, is helping drive interest and engagement in some books such as Alice Oseman’s popular Heartstopper series.

Books by authors such as Jeff Kinney remained popular Credit: Jonathan Beckerman/PA

Across the UK, Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney and David Walliams remain first and second most popular authors among primary school pupils while, in secondary school, Kinney was most popular followed by Walliams and then JK Rowling.

However, the report found that while average book difficulty rose as pupils became older, this was not in proportion to the rate at which the pupils should have been improving in reading.

Throughout secondary school, pupils were still reading books at almost the same level of difficulty as upper primary pupils, researchers found.

The study was carried out by learning and assessment provider, Renaissance, and analysed by the University of Dundee’s Professor Keith Topping.

He said: “Now in its 15th year, the report continues to provide invaluable insights into the reading habits of pupils and longstanding trends have become evident.

“Over this long period, we have seen a repeated decline in reading comprehension from primary to secondary pupils.

“To help tackle this, secondary pupils need to be encouraged to read books of increased difficulty, more appropriate to their age.”

The study found that the “striking slump” in difficulty at transfer to secondary school is very marked in all regions, including the Republic of Ireland, and that book difficulty plateaus after transfer to secondary school.

Researchers said that the fact that pupils in Scotland are still in primary school in Year 7 does not protect them from this slump.

In Scotland, The Boy at the Back of the Class, by Onjali Q Rauf, was the most popular book among primary pupils while secondary pupils enjoyed A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, the 2023 report found.

However, despite the rise in the amount of books being read, findings from a National Literacy Trust survey of 62,149 UK pupils also presented in the report show that reading for pleasure has declined since the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Christina Clark, head of research at the National Literacy Trust, said, “Whilst it is encouraging to discover that children are reading more books through the accelerated reader programme, our research shows this is happening alongside reading enjoyment levels being at a 15-year-low, and the percentage of children who say they read daily is also a concern.

“The brief rise in both levels of reading enjoyment and reading frequency in May 2020 suggests that giving children and young people free time to read is vital in supporting their reading enjoyment.

“We also know that children and young people are finding inspiration for their next read from a variety of sources, including teachers, librarians, peers, families and online platforms.

“It is clear that much more must be done to support children and young people with the lowest levels of reading enjoyment, recognising the role that families, schools and the wider community have to play in ensuring any downward trends in reading enjoyment and frequency do not extend into future years.”