Choosing the Right Book: Factors that Affect Children’s Reading

Gayle Bogel


A Review of:
Maynard, S., Mackay, S., & Smyth, F. (2008). A survey of young people's reading in England: Borrowing and choosing books. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 40(4), 239-253.

Objective – To analyze factors affecting book choice: reading recommendations, reasons for choosing series books, book reviews, and school libraries.

Design – This secondary analysis of data is based on a selection of findings from a larger 2005 survey that monitored trends in youth reading habits. The large scale 2005 study was designed as a follow up to a 1996 survey. The 2005 survey used online questionnaires and formal statistical analysis to compare gender and age groups. The data on factors affecting book choice were derived from the original questions, responses, and analyses.

Setting – Questionnaires were administered in
22 primary and 24 secondary schools in the UK with access to computers and internet.

Subjects – Almost 4,200 students from 4 to 16 years of age.

Methods – Study authors invited approximately 150 schools to participate in the survey. Forty-six schools (31%) responded. A total of 22 primary and 24 secondary schools participated in the original study between April and June 2005.

This study used comparative analysis to examine factors affecting book choice between gender and age groups. Statistical significance was defined as one percent. Other demographic information was collected, such as ethnicity, language spoken at home, and religion, but was deemed insufficient for any meaningful analysis.

There were 4,182 responses to the survey, separated into three age groups: ages 4 to 7 (KS1), ages 7 to 11 (KS2), and ages 11 to 16 (KS3&4).

Students were asked to describe themselves as readers by responding to multiple choice questions, and then to provide specific information on the places or people most frequently used as book borrowing sources. Participants were considered “enthusiastic” readers if they “read a lot with pleasure” and “average” readers if they “read an ordinary amount”. Participants responded to additional multiple choice questions on specific factors related to borrowing books and book choices, the process of choosing series, fiction, and nonfiction books.

Main Results – Readers: The number of children who described themselves as “enthusiastic” readers decreased with age, and approximately half of the children between 7 and 16 years of age described themselves as “average” readers, average rating increasing slightly through this age group. Investigators found a marked difference in gender within the 4 to 7 year olds: 49.7% percent of girls in this age group considered themselves “enthusiastic,” compared to 37.3% of boys. Only 18.5% of girls considered themselves “reluctant” readers, compared to 28.1% of boys.

The longitudinal comparison to the earlier 1996 study found that although the percentage of boys from ages 7 to 16 who described themselves as reluctant readers stayed about the same, the percentage of girls who described themselves as reluctant increased. There was also a dramatic drop in the number of girls who described themselves as enthusiastic; from 51% in 1996 to 17% in 2005.

Borrowing Books: Libraries of all types (school, classroom and public) were the prime sources for borrowing books. Girls borrowed more books from schools than boys, and girls also borrowed more books from non-library sources (family members and friends) than boys. Both boys and girls increasingly reported borrowing more books from friends than from libraries as they grew older.

Over half of each age group rated the school library or classroom book corner as having “enough” books. The perception of “too many books” decreased with age. The perception of quality of the classroom or school library also decreased with age. The number of students in the younger age groups who rated the quality of books in the classroom or school library as “very good” was significantly higher than students in the older age groups. The number of student who rated the quality as “okay” doubled from the lower to the higher age group.

Choosing Books: Children were asked six questions related to whether the physical book itself provided motivation to read, and six questions related to other factors for book recommendation. Younger readers were more likely to choose a book for its visual appeal, although this factor (interesting cover or illustrations inside) was more consistent for boys of all age groups than girls. The author’s name and book blurb were stronger factors for girls in the 7 to 16 age group than for boys.

The study authors sought to explore the idea of “shared reading” and asked children in the 7 to 11 and 11 to 16 age groups how often they chose a book based on a recommendation from a friend or family member, a public or school librarian, or other adults. Friends were the strongest recommendation source (43.2% for 7 to 11 year olds and 38.4% for 11to 16 year olds). Recommendations from school or public librarians rated only three to six percent for both age groups.

All age groups were asked about choosing series books, and the questions were simplified for the younger age group. All students reported that appealing factors were the consistency of characters, familiar storylines, and familiar writing styles. Some students also noted that the availability of series books positively affected their choices.

Print or online book reviews were used “hardly ever or never” by over 40% of the 7 to16 year old age groups, while television or magazine reviews or recommendations were highly rated by over 50% of respondents in the same age groups. Participants chose informational or non-fiction books because of personal interests, hobbies, or recommendations from friends, while they selected fiction or poetry for the blurb, title, or appearance and design of the cover. Celebrity recommendations and books about celebrities were popular reasons for choosing books.

When asked who helped them choose books, 53.2% in the 7 to11 age group and 66.1% in the 11to 16 age group stated that no one ever helps them. Of the students who had help choosing books, “family members” was the most common response. Local librarians were not used as a source for recommendations.


children's librarianship; school libraries; bbok borrowing; book choice; children's reading

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