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Of course children’s classics are important, but we should still encourage variety in our reading

Of course children’s classics are important, but we should still encourage variety in our reading

20 December 2021

It’s no secret that reading can have a powerful, long-lasting impact on us. It opens our eyes and our minds to new ideas and cultures. It can help us to escape to new worlds. It can provide comfort and inspiration. The importance of reading is even more recognizable among children; it’s well documented that developing a love of reading at an early age helps to improve their literacy and vocabulary and support their future education.

For many young people, their first experiences of reading and literature are in their early years, when they are read to by their parents, carers, or other family members. These moments are important milestones in a child’s life. That’s why we recently conducted some research with 4,000 parents across the UK, Australia, China, and Hong Kong to explore parents’ reading habits with their children. We wanted to understand why they read to their children and how it makes them feel, as well as identifying if there are any barriers that may limit reading opportunities.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of parents across all markets felt that reading helped them to bond and connect with their child (79%), and 71% said that they wish they had more time to read to their children. The power of reading to help young people make sense of the world around them was another theme that came through strongly; 76% of all the parents we spoke to said they look for books that teach their child about wider society, and 70% said they see reading as an opportunity to discuss difficult or sensitive topics.

What did strike us as interesting, however, is what parents are choosing to read. Our research revealed a sense of nostalgia, with the majority of parents saying they prefer to read books to their child that they enjoyed when they were younger. And it isn’t just parents who are creatures of habits; according to the research, children also prefer to re-read books, whether they are read to, or read independently.

To my earlier point about books providing comfort, and how reading helps parents and children bond, it is no surprise that we tend to go back to books that we associate with happy memories. Parents will naturally want to share their own experiences with their children. Equally, the classics are classics for a reason.

But what the research also highlighted is that parents aren’t always sure where to look for new titles. In the UK and China, around a third (37% and 36% respectively) said they didn’t know how to find out what the latest books are, rising to 60% in both Hong Kong and Australia.

We don’t want young people to miss the opportunity to experience books or genres of publishing just through a lack of awareness. Instead, we want young people – and their parents – to benefit from the variety that the world of literature has to offer, especially when parents clearly want to be able to use books to educate and explore current issues. So what advice can I give to parents? And what can we, at OUP, do to help?

Firstly, I would encourage parents to talk to each other, and share recommendations. Find out what other books children are enjoying, or seek out book reviews. Secondly, they should feel comfortable in taking risks and look to try something new, even if they haven’t heard about it before. There’s always a chance they—or their children—won’t enjoy it, but it’s just as likely that they find a new family favourite. After all, today’s books may be tomorrow’s classic.

As for what we can do at OUP, we’re committed to continuing to develop resources, such as Oxford Owl at Home, which support reading in a home environment. We also regularly highlight and promote our latest children’s books, as do most other publishers. Indeed, as part of this research, we put together a top 10 list of new books for parents to consider. We will continue to think of ways we can reach out to parents, and work with schools, to help expand the books children are reading.

We are not stipulating what people should and shouldn’t read, nor are we saying that parents should stop reading or enjoying the classics. There is certainly a place them, especially given how much joy they bring to parents and children alike. And there is still plenty that children can learn from them, not least about the past. Equally, the books we choose are very much a personal choice, and naturally everyone likes something different.
However, we know that reading helps children—and indeed, people of all ages—to comprehend the world they are living in. Introducing more variety into what we read feeds our imagination, helping to provides a richer, more enjoyable reading experience that can stay with us throughout our lives.