Why Children Don’t Read Children’s Literature: A Comparison of ALA Notable Children’s Books and IRA Children’s Choices “Best” Lists 1974 to 2002
John Beach, Department of Human Services and Counseling, The School of Education
When children discover books they like, they spend time reading them. The more time children spend reading, the better they perform as readers. Knowing which books children like is therefore a central concern for literacy teachers. However, production and access to children’s books is governed by adults: authors, publishers, editors, librarians, teachers, and parents. Many adults operate from an elitist perspective regarding children’s reading, actively ignoring comic books, series books, and books that do not win awards chosen by adults. This study attempts to answer the question of whether children really do appreciate the books adults think are appropriate for them. A computer database was created to compare two annual lists of “best” children’s books: the International Reading Association’s Children’s Choices (chosen by children themselves) and the American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Books (chosen by librarians). Contrary to the conservative hypothesis that there would be a 50% overlap of titles on the two lists, only 12% was observed over a twenty-seven year period from 1974 to 2002, indicating a statistically significant difference (p < .01) for each year and overall. Adults and children appear to be quite far apart in their criteria for what constitutes a good children’s book. Those who seek to assist children’s development of literacy need to rethink their use of award winning books such as the Newbery and Caldecott titles that are always included in the ALA list.