Will our kids be readers?

Thursday, September 30, 2010


When our kids grow up, what kinds of readers will they be? I don't have any little snot-dispensers myself, but being a professor in training I'm curious about the next generation's intellectual trends. (Also I know that TQO blog editor Matt Wood has a couple, so to thank for him letting me help out with the blog this year, this one's for him.)

Scholastic, the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, is understandably curious as well. With $2 billion in annual revenue at stake, they want to know how kids feel about e-readers, book buying, and the like. They released the results [PDF] of their biennial survey yesterday, which, while comprehensive, are frustrating.

They do put together some interesting data:

- reading for fun peaks at age 6 and then declines steadily thereafter

- 39% of kids 9-17 “totally agree” that “the information I find online is always correct”

- 25% believe that texting counts as reading, whatever that means

But the report is essentially a marketing document, manufacturing an air of crisis (the report is stuffed with words like fear, worry, problem, behind, concerned, and so on) so that worried parents will buy more. Also, while they compile lots of data to support the cliché that kids are more into technology and less into books than their parents, they don't address the gap between what people say they want (like more technology, if you're a kid, or more reading, if you're a parent) and what they actually do. 

Most of all, the report doesn't ask the really hard questions – mainly because they focus on fun, not meaning. What I want to know is, do today's kids find meaning in books? Will they grow up to buy enough to keep literary publishers (not just “fun” ones) in business? Will books preserve their aura of intellectual and emotional depth, or will some new brand find a way to do it better?