Getting a kid read on the written word!

There’s no question that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise has rekindled kids’ love of reading, an activity that had somewhat fallen off their entertainment radar as busy schedules and an ...
March 1, 2003

There’s no question that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise has rekindled kids’ love of reading, an activity that had somewhat fallen off their entertainment radar as busy schedules and an influx of more activities put the squeeze on free time. Now that the literary connection has been re-established, we thought it might be interesting to check in with our Reactorz panel to see what kids are up to in the world of reading these days.

What We Found:

Overwhelmingly, our core kid panelists ages seven to 12 say they prefer to sit down and really dive into a book, rather than flipping through a magazine. But as they age up into the early teen bracket, kids learn to appreciate the ‘quick peruse’ reading approach offered by mags because it’s easier to fit into their hectic lifestyles. When younger kids do read magazines, their picks include National Geographic for Kids, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Teen People, Nintendo Power, YM, Seventeen, Mad Magazine and Chickdee/Owl.

As far as books go, nearly all kids put Harry Potter releases at the top of their fave book lists. But beyond those titanic titles, genre tastes tend to diverge along gender lines, with girls going for reality-based books like Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Barbara Ware Holmes’ Letters to Julia and the classic E.B. White tale Charlotte’s Web. Boys, meanwhile, gravitate towards fantasy/action-adventure tomes such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel and the ‘Wheel of Time’ series by Robert Jordan.

Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends echo loudly as kids’ most trusted source for learning about new books, with teachers, librarians, posters at school, book stores and magazines getting some nods as good secondary influences. Most kid reading material comes from the library, which kids visit once a week on average, borrowing more than one book at a time. But our panelists say they also love to spend time reading at book stores along the lines of Chapter’s/Indigo (Canada) and Barnes & Noble (U.S.), which provide comfy couches and chairs that encourage lingering.

But kids’ penchant for hanging out at book retailers doesn’t necessarily mean they are shelling out for new books, which are still largely purchased by mom and dad. Kids aren’t buying their own magazines either, with parents again footing the bill (unless it’s a school copy), but mags get picked up at a wider array of retail outlets that includes drug stores, grocery stores, book stores and direct-mail subscriptions.

Kids have very clear ideas about what they don’t want to see in a book or magazine targeted at them: adult content like swearing, racism, nudity, violence, drugs and sexism. But don’t go too far in the other direction either – they’ll run the other way if they think a book has too much baby stuff, which they define in this case as fairy tales, baby animals and slow-moving stories. What kids said:

‘I wish I had more time to read and more money to buy new books.’ (girl, 11)

‘I like to read books more than magazines.’ (boy, 10)

‘The book cover matters a lot for me. If it is not interesting, I don’t even feel like reading.’ (girl, 12)

‘They should take out the swearing and the gross parts. (For example, when the farmer stabbed the cow in the neck, you could see all the blood flowing down the cow’s neck as it fell to the ground with a big thud.)’ (boy, 10)

‘I like all book stores, but I usually go to the library because it doesn’t cost anything and you can get as many books as you want with just a library card.’ (girl, 11)

‘I like books so much that I’m writing my very own book (that I hope will get published)!’ (boy, 10)

The topics explored in this monthly column are generated by the members of Reactorz, the youth-powered research engine of Big Orbit Inc. that helps companies find out what kids and young people ages seven to 22 are thinking, feeling and talking about. For more information about how Reactorz Research can help your business, please visit or contact Sean Bittle or Kelly Lynne Ashton at 416-516-0705 (by e-mail at

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