Global children’s publishing powerhouse Scholastic has released its biannual report on reading trends, and falling in line with the changing face of kids television, it looks like diversity is a hot topic among American six- to 17-year-olds and their parents.
According to The Kids & Family Reading Report, which also surveyed parents of under-fives, more children are interested in reading stories about different races, cultures and faiths, though access to these books are still scarce.
When asked what diversity means to them, 73% of parents say it relates to “people and experiences different than those of my child,” while 68% say “various cultures, customs, or religions,” and 51% say it relates to “differently abled people.” It’s also important to note that African-American families are more likely to include people of color in their definitions, at 62%.
Scholastic’s head librarian, Deimosa Webber-Bey, says this knowledge represents a chance for the publisher to select new kinds of inclusive stories.
“The study presents a real opportunity to see what it is that will get readers more excited in general across the population, but also specifically from diverse groups,” says Webber-Bey. “We were excited to see a very inclusive definition of diversity that spanned a lot of different communities.”
In terms of inclusion, parents of 12- to 17-year-olds are more likely than their kids to look for diverse characters. However, kids are still seeking out stories that portray characters that are “differently-abled” (13%), “culturally or ethnically diverse” (11%) and “who break stereotypes” (11%). African-American and Hispanic families are even more likely to look for stories with culturally of ethnically diverse characters.
“I think across the industry, at Scholastic as well as outside, we hope to apply these findings,” says Webber-Bey. “We’re constantly trying to find new voices from different communities that can tell stories, so it’s our hope this will be useful for everyone.”
Both Webber-Bey and the Scholastic report point to a disconnect in terms of book access. For example, among children ages zero to 17, the average number of books in the home is 104, but if an annual household income is less than US$35,000, the number drops to 69. Hispanic families have an average of 91 books, and African-American families average 67.
“When there are fewer books and less to choose from, we’re finding children have difficulty locating a favorite or something they really enjoy,” says Webber-Bey. “So hopefully with different content and methods it will help increase a child’s choice, and they’ll be able to find a book they like—and then grow to become a frequent reader.”
The report also details an increase in reading aloud, which went from 55% of parents with kids ages three to five in 2014 up to 62%. But the report did notice a drop in out-loud reading among kids ages five and eight. Webber-Bey thinks that if book access increases for everyone then this drop-off might be avoidable.
“There’s an opportunity to create books that are really appealing for key ages like five to eight, so that the love of reading will continue as opposed to fall,” says Webber-Bey.
Of course, some things never change, especially when you look at Scholastic’s list of some of the most popular children’s book titles in the US.
The top 10 books/series that parents are reading to their kids include Goodnight Moon, Dr. Seuss, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter. Kids ages six to eight say their favorites include series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Magic Tree House and Junie B. Jones. Tweens, meanwhile, had similar answers, with Diary of a Wimpy Kid coming in first, Harry Potter second and Goosebumps placing third. For kids ages 12 to 14, all of those titles were joined by the Dork Diaries and Percy Jackson series.
“I was really excited to see the different series that children pointed out. The Babysitter’s Club was still in there, obviously Harry Potter is very popular, and I was thrilled to see that Divergent and Twilight are still being enjoyed by children,” Webber-Bey says.