What are kids today reading? Well, in the U.K., kids are not reading JRR Tolkien, at least according to the latest What Kids Are Reading report. It's the first time since the list began seven years ago that the classic fantasy author hasn't been on it.
What Kids Are Reading is an annual report that looks at the reading habits of children in the U.K., looking at more than half a million children in 2,000-plus U.K. schools. Although they found that Tolkien's books are still popular, none of his titles got the votes necessary to make it in their top 20 list this year.
So what did? Mostly contemporary YA, it seems. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was the most popular book, and other recent YA releases also made the top 20, including The Hunger Games, Divergent, and several books from Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. And while all of these are awesome titles, it seems that there's a distinctly modern slant to teen reading nowadays.
In other words, teens don't appear to be voluntarily reading many classics. After all, we all know that speculative fiction like fantasy and sci fi have long been popular with young people, but that doesn't mean that teenagers can't enjoy the classics of the genre. And yet, it seems, works like Tolkien's are no longer popular.
So what's changed? Is it the sheer number of young adult books published nowadays, crowding out older titles? Is it that increased marketing aimed at teens makes them more likely to know about new releases? Is it maybe that the digital age has changed the world so much that even science fiction and fantasy from earlier times don't seem relevant anymore?
And most important of all, is it a problem that teens are so focused on relatively new titles?
As much as I understand the impulse to worry about "kids these days" and all their terrible habits, the truth is that kids reading modern fiction probably isn't that big a deal. After all, schools do a pretty good job of making sure kids read major literary works already. So when it comes to teenagers' downtime, it's unsurprising they'd reach for something more modern, and more relatable. Plus, the fact that kids favor recent YA titles doesn't mean that's all they're reading either.
When I was a teenager, I read plenty of literary fiction, both contemporary and some of the more classic stuff. But I also read tons of YA, and if I'm being honest, those were probably the books that I enjoyed the most. At the height of my fantasy phase, I tried reading Tolkien, and considered it way too dense and moving way too slowly for me to get into it. I much preferred Harry Potter book or Tamora Pierce. And that's really the way it should be.
We should encourage teens to read the classics, true. But if kids don't enjoy something, you can't reasonably force them to read it. My love of reading stems mainly from the fact that I've always been allowed to read whatever I want — and as a result, just about everything I've read have been books I enjoy. And in the long run, that's what's best for teens' reading habits.