Out with the Roald: Why young readers are turning their backs on the classics

Carol Peel. manager of The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley, in the Children's section of the shop. Picture by Simon Hulme
Carol Peel. manager of The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley, in the Children's section of the shop. Picture by Simon Hulme
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IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that the classroom is often the perfect setting to foster a love of reading in young minds.

But research has found that a new age of rebellion is upon us, as today’s schoolchildren are increasingly turning their backs on traditional classics.

The lure of Hollywood has proved too much for staples of the curriculum to rival, according to the annual What Kids Are Reading. It has uncovered a growing disconnection between what primary and secondary school pupils are reading in lessons and the stories they would rather delve into.

While Roald Dahl has long reigned supreme as the author of choice for teachers across the country, today’s youngsters have far more appetite for the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Famous names taking a leap into the world of literature are also a draw, with celebrity authors such as David Walliams proving popular.

The survey saw 508,000 pupils take complete nine million quizzes giving details of the books they had read and their favourites. Most read in the classroom were Jeff Kinney, of Wimpy Kid fame, and Dahl, but those children prefer to read include JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins, author of the hugely popular Hunger Games trilogy which have inspired the box office smashes starring Jennifer Lawrence.

“The report provides us with an unparalleled insight into children’s reading habits,” said Dirk Foch, director of Renaissance Learning, publisher of the survey.

Britain’s Got Talent judge David Walliams, who has penned Demon Dentist and Gangsta Granny, appears frequently in both the list of books youngsters have read in the classroom and their own personal favourites.

John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, recently made into a film, was the most popular among secondary school pupils.

“I would concur with the findings,” said Sonia Benster, who opened the The Children’s Bookshop in Lindley, Huddersfield, in 1975 and still works there today.

“It goes through to a younger age. It’s been an absolute bonanza for Paddington since Christmas.

“But frequently you find that children who have read the book first are disappointed with the film. My gransdon told me that the difference between books and films is that when he’s reading his imagination has no bounds, yet when it’s up on the big screen it’s all prescribed.

“As long as it causes them to pick up a book at some stage, it’s good news.”

In some parts of the region, however, the love of older, traditional tales endures.

Louise Harrison, owner of TP Children’s Bookshop in Addingham, near Ilkley, said: “The older classics remain popular. I still get children coming in to buy copies of Just William and the Famous Five series. If the story and characters are strong enough, children don’t mind when it was written or if it has been made into a film yet.”

The Grove book shop in Ilkley, which has a 35-year history in the trade, played down the appetite for the big-screen blockbusters.

Carole Peel, manager at the independent book store, said: “In our experience we get more who are after the more traditional kind of story.

“We get a lot of parents who bring their children in and want them to read the same books they did when they were younger.

“David Walliams has been very popular, though.”