Monday, October 17, 2011

Middle Grade Readers - A survey of what books they like and the impact of ereaders

Middle grade writers spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what kids like to read, so I thought I would take the opportunity to ask some children themselves. I did a survey of 47 children in the 4th through 6th grades about what types of books they liked to read, and also about ebooks. Some of the results surprised me.

First, some facts about this group: The children attend a small private Montessori school, so there are only about 50 total students in the 4th-6th grades at this school. While these kids are a very small, privileged piece of the demographic pie, they are interesting, because they’ve had access to a variety of books their whole lives, and they have parents who have the funds and the resources to either take them to the library or buy them books, even hardcover new releases. They are aware of the choices of books out there. Not all of them like to read, as is typical with any group of students.  In fact, one boy who took the survey crossed out all the choices, I think as his way of indicating he really doesn’t like to read.

The survey they filled out did not ask for names, because I didn’t want them to feel they had to choose accepted or more popular types of books if they didn’t want to. It asked for their ages and whether they were a boy or a girl, and then asked them to choose their top three favorite types of books to read. I gave them the choices below and also told them examples of each category to make sure they understood. Not all of the children picked three; some picked more and some picked less.

Here were the choices:

Books set in imaginary places, fantasies

Science fiction, books set in the future or on different planets or spaceships


Books set in schools or in towns with kids like you

Books about animals

Books about adventures in faraway places or wilderness adventures

Books about sports

Books set back in time (historical)

Books set in today’s time, but with characters who have special powers or who are fantasy beings

Books with magic in them

Here are the results broken down by sex (I'll try to edit the post to get the choices more readable, but it's going to take me a bit of time to figure out how to do that):

I was particularly surprised by the results of the boys. It was interesting to see mysteries as the top choice and historicals right up there with several other choices. I also wouldn’t have guessed that scary stories would score as highly with the girls.

There are also two factors about this group that might influence the results. One is that while many of these children participate in sports outside of school, there are no organized sports at school, and that may be why interest in books about sports is low.  Two, all the children know me and know my adventure books. My daughter pushed my first book, WILDFIRE RUN, to many of them, particularly the girls, so that may be why that category scored higher than it would in a school where one particular book wasn’t promoted so much.

The most fascinating part of the survey was about ebooks. I showed the children a Kindle and a Nook  and talked about the IPad to make sure they understood what an ereader was.  Silly me. I should have realized children this age are fascinated by technology and far more up-to-date than I am. When I asked how many had read a whole book on an ereader, twenty-seven said they had.  That’s 57%. Seven children even had ereaders of their own. This is at a school where very few children have cellphones, and where the parents of many of these kids don’t allow them to play video games or don’t encourage them to do so. I also asked of those who hadn't read a book on an ereader, how many thought they might want to try one. Thirteen of twenty said they would. That's kind of a trick question though. Most kids won't turn down a chance to try a new gadget.

I’m going to be talking to many more children in about a month from a different sort of school and will ask them to fill out the same survey. More results to follow!

~ Dee Garretson


  1. Really interesting survey, Dee. I wonder how many of them regularly use e-readers for reading, and whether they like e-readers better than books?

  2. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing. It's always interesting to see what our audience is actually reading.

  3. Fascinating stuff! I'm planning to get each of my kids e-readers for Christmas, and they've read parts of books on my Kindle, but neither of them has e-read an entire novel yet.

  4. Andrea, I thought about asking that but didn't. I should have. I have a feeling kids of this group may use ebooks and books interchangeably, as ereaders just become one more way to read. That's what my own children do.

  5. How interesting! Can't wait to compare the results of another school! Excellent job!

  6. Cool stats, Dee!! I'll look forward to seeing what other populations you survey and what the results are!!

  7. Wow - what a great survey. I would love to have the ability to do this. So glad you shared!

  8. Interesting survey - thanks for sharing it!

  9. Great survey, Dee! It's interesting that this group doesn't have phones. I wonder, if you studied another group this age, if they'd report reading e-books on their phones.

    With my YA e-book, Venture Untamed, I was surprised how excited the teens I know were when I told them they could read on their phones. Many of them didn't know what an e-book was, and said they didn't like to read, but once they found out they could read books on their phones, their faces lit up and they were all for it.

  10. Fascinating post, Dee, and I can't wait to see how the survey turns out at the different kind of school.

  11. Word Wrestler,
    Around here, at most schools for most kids, 12 seems to be the age at which they get cellphones. Those are one of the few items parents hold off as long as possible, because of the whole texting, expense, etc. I can see why YA books would be more likely to be read on a cellphone, though I can't imagine it myself. I've said before, with my eyesight, I can barely see my phone, much less read a book on it.

  12. Wow! Fascinating. As a MG mystery author, I'm heartened to see such interest in mysteries.

  13. Great post! And I'm not at all surprised about the e-readers. My boys were lobbying for me to upgrade to a Nook Color, so they could have my Nook. Now the youngest (8yo) has his own "style" of reading on it (without the cover). Kids lap this stuff up.

  14. Wonderful information, thank you for sharing.

  15. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  16. That is a really interesting survey!
    I asked a group of children's writers on a blog earlier in the year how many children were reading books on eReaders?
    Here in New Zealand eReaders are just becoming available and I wanted to get a sense of where this technology was heading for children's writing.
    The authors asked all the kids they knew and found to their surprise that about 20% were reading books on eReaders. With several authors reporting that some kids had their own eReaders.
    We were all struck by the quick takeup of this new tech. I linked to the conversation in my weekly round up and New Zealand Children's writers got a swift lesson in where publishing was going. Something our publisher's here didn't understand.
    We have just had the launch of a small publisher who is publishing ebooks first...

    Writers are now living in interesting times!

    I will link to this in my weekly roundup...Thanks for the good work!
    New Zealand

  17. Thanks for posting. For me, it was interesting to see that girls seem less interested in sci-fi. I wonder why that is...

  18. Thanks Maureen for linking it!

    And PHC, it's probably because right now there isn't much middle grade sci fi at all. I know a few books have come out this year and I think more will come out in the next few years, so that may change. I hope so, because I just wrote one. :)

  19. Thanks for sharing - I suspect a lot of writers will find this invaluable. It's interesting to see Science Fiction languishing though ... is that because the kids picked genres they enjoyed reading, and there's hardly any SF out there for them TO read? (as per Dee and Susan, above, SF is my genre too.)

  20. This is so, so interesting! Thanks so much for sharing it!

  21. Nice post. Over half of my sixth grade students have ereaders. Kids are definitely in-tune with technology and up to speed on the latest and greatest. However, usually they only buy books that are highly marketed. Rick Riordan comes to mind, since they're all reading Son of Neptune. Though I can't blame them for all reading that one. :)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!