What are the children reading? Books like “Hunger Games”, but also classics.

What do green eggs, stick figures navigating college perils, and post-apocalyptic teenage battles have in common? They are all found in the books most read by American children and adolescents.

The reading habits of 9.8 million students in grades 1-12 are detailed in the new “What children read” report from Renaissance Learning in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, which tracks students from 31,000 schools across the United States.

The annual report began five years ago “to encourage parents, teachers, librarians to find books that children will enjoy…and to encourage the practice of reading as much as possible,” says Eric Stickney, director Renaissance educational research. “The amount of reading children do is highly predictive of their test success and growth. [academically].” [Editor’s note: The original version of this story attributed the quotes in this paragraph, as well as one later in the story, to the wrong individual.]

Reading is tracked by Renaissance’s Accelerated Reading Program, which allows students to answer simple quizzes that show whether they have actually read and understood a book. Questionnaires are available for approximately 160,000 books, including most children’s and teen books found in schools and public libraries. It not only tracks assigned readings, but also many books that students pick up in their free time.

Of the 318 million books read in 2012-2013, a few rose to the top of the pop charts:

• “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss is #1 for first graders, and it remains on the top 20 list for second and third graders.

• Alyssa Satin Capucilli’s “Biscuit” series books are extremely popular in the early grades.

• Seven of the top nine places in grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 go to Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series.

• For students in grades 7-10, “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins takes the No. 1 spot, with follow-ups “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” also in the Top 10.

• Among high school students, some classics still manage to climb into the Top 10, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller (#1 for Grade 11), “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and several works of Shakespeare.

“Every time a book is made into a movie…the book grows in popularity,” says Mr. Stickney, and “virtually all of the most popular titles become part of a series.”

Have you ever wondered how many students are reading these days?

The number of books students read peaks in second grade, at an average of 55.

But the number of words students read in books peaks in sixth grade, when they have an average of 16.2 books containing a total of 419,121 words.

In grade 12, students read an average of 5.2 books per year, containing 304,252 words.

The gender gap in the average number of words read by students peaks in eighth grade – with boys reading 340,515 words and girls 446,771.

The Common Core State Standards, adopted by the majority of states in recent years, further encourage the reading of informational texts. But the balance of books read by children is still strongly in favor of fiction. Fifteen percent of books read by 12th graders are non-fiction.

The Renaissance Report includes lists of the most popular non-fiction books for each level. For the early years, books about animals and various historical figures, ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Ruby Bridges, are the most popular.

The report shows slight gains since 2010 in the percentages of students reading books mentioned on the ‘exemplary lists’ – the common core examples showing the increasing level of complexity that students should be exposed to in their reading.

A book appears in first or second place for grades 6-12: “A Child Called ‘It’: One Child’s Courage to Survive.” It is Dave Pelzer’s memoir of growing up amid severe abuse from his alcoholic mother, who saw him as “a slave…no longer a boy, but an ‘it'”, reads- on the back of the book jacket. “But his dreams kept him alive – dreams of someone caring for him, loving him and calling him their son.”

About Marcia G. Hussain

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