Reading habits unwrapped: What (and How) Kids Are Reading 2022

By Denisha Polin


This year marks the launch of our 14th annual What (and how) Kids are reading report and we are beyond thrilled to reveal the reading habits of over 1 million pupils across the UK and Ireland for the 2020/2021 academic year.

Whilst some familiar author names remain popular year on year, you might be wondering which new and noteworthy titles will capture pupils interests? How settling back into the classroom post-pandemic has impacted reading attitudes and attainment? And lastly (certainly not final), what titles support social-emotional learning? Well, rest assured that this blog will highlight key findings from the report which answer those lingering questions.

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

So, what have we done different?

Contrary to previous years, this year we have not only held a microscope to schools and publishers but have also turned attention to reflect on our efforts at Renaissance to ensure Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the books quizzed for AR. From data tracking to work with independent publishers and authors from under-represented groups.

That’s not all. We are also addressing the challenges of quizzing non-fiction titles. That’s right our Content team have provided a thorough breakdown of the quiz writing process!

Gathering data

Looking at 1,088,136 pupils who read 21, 903,349 books (11% more than last year) over the 2020-2021 academic year, we’ve gathered data from Accelerated Reader, as well as Star Reading and myON in this report.

From disruption to recovery

This year schools have been again working under severe pressure from Covid-19, but the openings and closures of schools across the UK and lreland have been quite erratic, so there has been no clear pattern nationally, and unlike last year, we cannot provide specific data for in and out of lockdown.

In this years report, we have also dropped the analyses of books read by high ability readers and low ability readers, as these were too predictable.

The pleasures of reading

Its no secret that when a child reads a book associated with a topic or theme they enjoy, they are more likely to engage with its content. We are delighted to see that the latest data from the National Literacy Trust shows continuous improvement on pre-pandemic levels with just over half of children and young people (aged 8-18) saying they enjoyed reading either very much (21.6%) or quite a lot (29.9%).

Primary to secondary slump

We did find that the difficulty of books read increases as primary school pupils get older, however this starts to dip during secondary school. Research shows older pupils in secondary school were still reading the same difficulty of books as upper primary pupils.

Also, pupils in primary schools consistently showed a much higher quality of comprehension when reading (79% to 83%) than pupils in secondary schools (67% to 73%).

Familiar faces dominate the authors popular amongst young readers

It’s no surprise that Jeff Kinney, David Walliams and Roald Dahl remained popular amongst young readers, ruling the top 5, once again. However, Julia Donaldson did become a little less popular than in previous years.

Harry Potter for the win!

JK. Rowling re-emerged and gained some traction in the list of favourite books within primary schools, with her Harry Potter titles taking the top 3 spots.


What do the experts have to say?

Professor Keith Topping, author of What Kids Are Reading 2022

As schools return to something like normal, Accelerated Reader has continued to maintain and even increase reading activity in children and young people. We see clearly from the evidence that time spent reading books is crucial to improved reading skill, an essential transferable skill for the future. Children with high quality comprehension of real books also perform better on tests of reading skill. This is excellent, but more attention to communicating favourite books between peers would increase it even further.”

John Moore, Managing Director of Renaissance UK and Australia

The past year has continued to be challenging as pupils adjust to post-pandemic life and most return full time to school. We know books and reading have provided millions of pupils with comfort and escapism and we’re delighted to see this passion continuing, with pupils overall reading 11% more books over the last academic year.

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

The National Literacy Trust are delighted to contribute to this annual report with Renaissance Learning. It is heartening to see in our research that more children and young people said in 2021 that they enjoy reading compared with early 2020.  Our data also suggests that Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader (AR) programme can be a valuable tool for sustaining the enthusiasm for reading during lockdown, as we found that more children and young people who use AR said that they enjoy reading, and that this is particularly the case for boys.”

Find out more

The What Kids Are Reading report itself goes into detail about what children read in 2020-21, how their reading progressed, and how they felt about reading. Get all the information by downloading it for free here.

Let us know your thoughts!

We’d love to hear your comments and encourage you to share your thoughts with us @RenLearnUK (on Twitter and Instagram) using #WKAR22.


The What Kids Are Reading report summarises the reading habits from 1,088,136 pupils who read 21, 903,349 books using data from Renaissance Accelerated Reader, Star Assessments, and myON.


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