David Walliams moves up children’s book charts faster than any other author

Full findings of the ‘What Kids Are Reading 2014’ report reveal shift in ‘most read’ authors, improved comprehension levels and a need for greater challenge

The results of the biggest annual study of its kind into British children’s reading habits, ‘What Kids Are  Reading’ published in full today by Renaissance Learning, look in detail at the reading habits of 426,000 children in more than 2,000 UK schools over the last academic year.

Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series triumphs this year and, for the first time ever, overtakes national icon Roald Dahl topping the poll as the single most read author in British schools. This is a remarkable achievement considering Jeff Kinney’s relatively small number of books published compared to Roald Dahl. 

But the real winner and fastest mover in this year’s ‘most read’ charts is David Walliams, who pulls ahead of JK Rowling and Michael Morpurgo as the fifth most read author in UK schools.  This is the first time that actor and TV personality Walliams, who has written seven books for children, including Mr Stink and Gangsta Granny has entered the ‘most read’ charts. 

The sixth annual ‘What Kids Are Reading’ report, authored by Professor Keith Topping and published by education software company Renaissance Learning, looks in detail at the reading choices of British schoolchildren.  Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader quizzing software not only assesses which books are being read, it also tests children’s detailed comprehension of their chosen books.

Most read author chart for all children between years 1 and 11

The report also reveals a picture of serious under challenge when it comes to reading in secondary schools.  This year’s results show that in primary school both the difficulty levels of books chosen and the accuracy with which they are read is on the rise compared with last year.  In Year 7 however, when students are making the transition to secondary school, children are choosing books at six months below their chronological age and from then on, reading difficulty plateaus or declines.  Year 6 is the last year when children are reading more or less at their natural reading age.

The findings indicate that there is a particular need to challenge secondary school students whether they are struggling readers or high achievers, both groups are currently under challenged by the books they are choosing to read.

The results show that boys and girls are now performing equally well, with no discernible gender difference in an area which has traditionally been a female stronghold.

The Regional picture

For the first time, the 2014 report has analysed the reading abilities of children by region across the UK.  The findings indicate that Northern Ireland is lagging behind England and Scotland in book difficulty in both early and late school years.  Unlike the rest of the UK, Year 7 students in Scotland are still in primary school, however this has not protected them from a decline in challenge, as they still demonstrate a marked decline in the difficulty of books being read.

A sporting influence

Non-fiction difficulty levels decline significantly in secondary school.  This is a genre favoured particularly by boys and where pupils would benefit from strong guidance to ensure a suitable level of challenge.  This category is initially dominated by animal themes, with 10 of the top 20 non-fiction ‘most read’ in Year 5 dedicated to crocodiles, eels, sharks and frogs. 

By Year 8, sport and football have almost completely taken over the non-fiction charts, with 15 titles based on sports and seven of those dedicated to football or football stars.  These titles are appealing to older boys but they are not sufficiently challenging for their level of ability, and the quizzing results also indicate that they are not necessarily reading these books with any great accuracy.

The report’s author, Professor Keith Topping comments: “There is a marked downturn in the difficulty of books at secondary transfer and this does not necessarily reflect a lack of ability to read more difficult texts.  The results seem to point to under challenge at either end of the spectrum, both for struggling readers and high-ability readers.”

James Bell, Director of Professional Services of educational software company Renaissance Learning, which published the report findings said:  “Our quizzing software shows that the difficulty of books read and the accuracy with which they are understood is in fact on the rise, but there is still a significant problem with lack of challenge.  It’s all about an individual approach to students.  Teachers and librarians, especially at secondary level, can make a huge difference, by encouraging each child to challenge themselves with their reading choices at the appropriate level for them.”

This is the biggest annual study of its kind into British children’s reading habits.  This year’s report features the largest participation to date, with 426,067 children taking part, reading 6,544,973 books and a total in excess of 77 billion words.


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