Celebrating 15 years of What Kids Are Reading

By Denisha Polin

Now in its fifteenth year, our What (and How) Kids Are Reading report uses Accelerated Reader, Star Reading and myON data to look at the book-reading habits of children across the UK and Ireland. This year we looked at data from nearly 1.3 million students from the 2021/22 academic year and are thrilled to share our findings.

One thing is a certainty every year – and that’s finding Jeff Kinney at the top of our most-read books list! Although, you might be wondering which new and noteworthy titles will capture pupils’ interests. How have post-pandemic effects impacted attitudes towards reading and attainment? Or how literacy development progresses in the transition from primary to secondary school? This blog will highlight key findings from the report and attempt to answer those lingering questions.

If you want to read more about pupils’ reading habits, download your free copy.


TikTok Taking over…

Is Tik Tok influencing reading habits among young people? It’s no secret that TikTok is one of the biggest and most popular social media platforms for young people right now, with 60% of the app’s users being Gen Z. The platform grew exponentially during the pandemic when demand for entertainment was particularly high and has since sustained a high user rate. Our research found that Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series and Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us dominate the list of secondary pupils’ favourite books, which have over 17 billion combined views on TikTok’s BookTok community.

More books read whilst enjoyment is declining…

Despite a 24% rise in overall reading volume (an impressive 27 million books), findings from the National Literacy Trust’s Annual Literacy Survey of 62,149 pupils show that reading for pleasure has declined since the pandemic. During lockdown, reading enjoyment had significantly increased among pupils. Fewer than half of children and young people say they enjoy reading very much or much. The benefits of reading for pleasure are well documented, so finding time to read has never been so important.

Challenges in Comprehension: Primary versus secondary

The report points to a 15-year trend of secondary pupils not tackling books sufficiently difficult. The Average Book Difficulty Level (as measured by ATOS) is identical to last year (3.6), which effectively means that they are still reading books aimed at a much younger audience. Interestingly, however, titles in the report’s ‘Favourite Books’ section generally have higher readability than most read books. Overall, though,  book difficulty isn’t rising in proportion to the rate at which the pupils should have improved based on age.

Pupils in primary schools also consistently show a much higher level of comprehension (74% to 80%) compared to their peers in secondary schools (65% to 71%), despite secondary school pupils not reading more challenging books.

What do the experts say?

Professor Keith Topping from the University of Dundee

“Over this long period, we have seen a repeated decline in reading comprehension from primary to secondary pupils. To help tackle this, secondary pupils need to be encouraged to read books of increased difficulty, more appropriate to their age.”

Dr Christina Clark, Head of Research at the National Literacy Trust

“Whilst it is encouraging to discover that children are reading more books through the Accelerated Reader Programme, our research shows this is happening alongside reading enjoyment levels being at a 15-year-low… The brief rise in both reading enjoyment and reading frequency levels in May 2020 suggests that giving children and young people free time to read is vital in supporting their reading enjoyment.”

The Big Launch

In true Renaissance style, we hosted an award ceremony to celebrate the launch of the report and, of course, recognise some of the talented authors on Accelerated Reader who don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Taking place at Glaziers Hall in London Bridge, we invited all contributing voices in children’s Literature: Teachers, Senior Leaders, Librarians, publishers, and authors.

Joining us for a third year to host the event, children’s author Sav Aykuz chaired a panel discussion with six more special guests: Professor Keith Topping, What Kids Are Reading Author, Emily Best Knowledge and Insight Manager at the National Literacy Trust, Kay Tinsley, Director at the Kemnal Academies Trust, Margaret Allen, Renaissance Curriculum Specialist and Cecelia Powell, Managing Editor responsible for AR Quiz production.

Our Quiz Writer’s Winners’

Our quiz writing team read and wrote quizzes on a whopping 1,401 books in 2022! As the experts in children’s books at Renaissance, every year, we let them choose their favourite books – ones that weren’t necessarily at the top of the most-read lists but that they thought deserved to be recognised. And the winners were…

  • Primary Fiction – Granny Came Here on the Windrush Empire by Patrice Roberts
  • Secondary Fiction – D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett
  • Primary Non-fiction – Sterling the Lovestruck Moose with a Heart for Cows by Vita Murrow
  • Secondary Non-Fiction – Musical Truth by Jeffrey Boakye
  • Debut – The Amazing Edie Eckhart by Rosie Jones
  • Series – True Adventures by Pushkin Press

Every year, we also present an Outstanding Achievement award to recognise an author’s contribution to children’s literature and encourage children to read for pleasure. We were very happy to present this award to Julia Donaldson this year!

Let us know your thoughts!

We’d love to hear your comments and encourage you to share your thoughts with us @RenLearnUK (on Twitter) using #WKAR23.


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