How the cost of living crisis is impacting children’s reading and book sales | Series 1, Episode 8

Episode 8

Episode 8 show notes

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Episode 8 transcript

How the cost of living crisis is impacting children’s reading and book sales

In this episode, I’m going to take a look at how the toxic combination of the cost of living crisis and lockdown is impacting reading, particularly in primary-aged children.
Parents aren’t spending money on books their lockdown generation children don’t want to read.

The children who did read in lockdown, now 11-16 years old, and those who were unaffected by the lack of in-person schooling in lockdown, now aged 0-4 years old, are propping up the children’s book sale market. According to our observations, the 7-11-year-old market has been shrinking over the last year. And anecdotal feedback from fellow teachers suggests that the current cohort of 5-10-year-olds who missed out on a significant portion of formal reading education is reading less, is arguably more reluctant to read challenging material, is resistant to and lacks confidence in reading comprehension assessments, and prefers familiar texts to return to and reread.

Combine this with a cost-of-living crisis in which everything is being squeezed, and parents aren’t spending money on books when their 5-11-year-olds aren’t interested. It’s not just books either. Magazines aimed at upper primary school students have seen a drop in readership, whereas those aimed at or read by infants and early teens have held steady.

Word Book Day in 2023 is a prime example of this. WBD events, books, sales, and school involvement have traditionally targeted children aged 5 to 10. Despite this, the Bookseller reports that, while WBS sales increased overall, children’s market sales fell compared to the previous week in 2022. The titles aimed at the younger and older ends of the children’s market performed best, but those aimed at the 5-7 and 7-9-year-old age groups, which are squarely in the lockdown-learning hit age groups, did not.

It isn’t just this country. Similar trends have been reported in the United States by the New York Times and Words Rated, highlighting a learning deficit and a 9.45% drop in children’s book sales in 2022, which is expected to continue into 2023:

What can we, as educators and teachers, do about it?

Don’t put up a fight. Increase your students’ self-esteem. Gradually improve children’s reading skills by providing a variety of options, reading for pleasure, and ensuring your school has increased access to books and adequate coverage throughout the school.
Make books available everywhere a child moves throughout the school and at all times during the school year. Classroom libraries, posters on the wall, books in assembly, video read-alouds on computers, audiobooks, stories at the end of the day, a well-stocked school library, books sent home every night, making time to hear children read, and giving children as much time as they need to choose a book to read.

Allow all school stakeholders access to books during the school year. This could include book fairs and author events but also used book swaps, book donation drives, used book sales, ‘open’ school library sessions, and involving your PTA.

Hold book-tasting sessions for children on a regular basis, not just in the classroom and the school library, but also in assemblies, peer group reading sessions, and mixed-age paired reading sessions. Use reading ambassadors or reading prefects to promote great books throughout their key stage or year group. Place book taster blurbs or posters in your newsletters and communications that are sent home for parents.

Look for books with high interest, short bursts of text, such as books by What on Earth Books, Flying Eye, Big Picture Press, Buster Books, Neon Squid, Quest friends, and B Small Publishing; and magazines such as Aqula and Britannica Magazine to engage children who have missed out on key reading experience during the lockdown.

Encourage higher-order thinking skills by using imaginative and thought-provoking picture books. In primary and secondary school, get students talking about books and sharing their book choices.

Consider creating children’s book wish list templates for your students to complete in order to keep reading in focus and momentum. Give children opportunities to think about which books they really want to read, as well as opportunities for parents to learn which books will be of long-term interest to their children. Get past your initial supermarket trolley experience.

Send home more than just reading strategies and book recommendations. Inform your parents about all of the good local independent bookstores in the area, as well as all of the free community library services in the area and how to get to them. It’s amazing how many parents have no idea what’s on their doorstep.

Think about running presentations for parents either before or after school to highlight reading opportunities and develop regular reading assemblies to help pinpoint your school’s reading expectations to the wider school community.

Register your entire class at your local library. If you don’t know how, ask your local librarian to come to your school or arrange for your class to go to the library. Children who sign up will have access to BorrowBox or Overdrive for free eBook loans and audiobooks, as well as PressReader for free newspapers and magazines. Also, take advantage of your school’s library service, whether it’s through loan boxes, mobile library vans, advice, librarian visits, or staff inset.

Encourage ‘middle grade’ reading for pleasure throughout KS3 before introducing more challenging texts in early secondary. Reading often drops off after Years 7&8 – but if you go to great lengths to ensure it doesn’t, the gap can be closed gradually throughout the students’ secondary years. For librarians and school libraries, a big push on reading for pleasure after year 8 will be critical.

Find opportunities to read that don’t seem to be reading. Kindles, games with a significant amount of reading content, maps, guides, catalogues, and brochures – aspirational things to dream about. Read about things to look forward to and dream about.

Above all – whatever your educational setting – if your students’ reading suffering from the aftereffects of lockdown and the cost of living crisis, find ways to consolidate and build reading confidence in primary and early secondary children before trying to encourage them to tackle more challenging reading material. And keep plugging away with your book plugging. Around every corner of your school, there should be a book waiting to be read.


Episode 8 credits

To see full details of licensing information, creative commons, GNU license credits and other attributions that apply to every episode of this podcast, see our School Reading List podcast credits information page.

Credits specific to this episode

  • Kevin MacLeod – Bummin on Tremelo – (purchased lifetime extended licensed registered to Tom Tolkien license ID FML-170359-11969).

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About Tom Tolkien

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Tom Tolkien is a highly qualified (BA Hons, PGCE, QTS) children's literature expert and teacher with over 25 years of experience. He has led inset courses, developed curriculum materials, spoken at conferences, advised on longlisting for several international children's literature literature awards and written for educational publishers including contributing to a BETT award-nominated app. Social profiles: Twitter | Linkedin