Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Shadowing Scheme that supports the CILIP Carnegie Medal, one of the most prestigious children’s literature awards. Recent analysis of the winning titles since Whispers in the Graveyard in 1994 through to A Monster Calls in 2012, as well as those shortlisted for the 2013 award, demonstrates both the sophistication in terms of the themes and content of modern children’s literature and the role initiatives this can play in developing a reading culture. Results released recently show that children are not only favouring more challenging topics but are also willing to tackle longer books, with the average page count of the winning texts almost doubling.
The research considered the reading age required to comprehend the texts together with an interest level calculation (comprising factors such as age appropriateness based on theme, characterisation and plot) and was carried out by educational software company and Carnegie Medal sponsor Renaissance Learning, which works with over 2,500 schools across the UK.
Since 1994 when the CILIP Shadowing Scheme was introduced to include children more actively in the awards, the average interest level of the winning books has risen by over two years to 13.3 years, compared to the average interest age of the winners from the previous decade.
Dirk Foch, managing director of Renaissance Learning said: “Reading should always be a joyful activity, but it is pleasing to note from our research that the standard of children’s literature is as high as ever. It also demonstrates the role initiatives such as the CILIP Shadowing Scheme play in ensuring students are exposed to quality writing as part of a wider reading culture. Indeed, as the findings of our 2013 What Kids Are Reading report show, children are most motivated by books that challenge them, but many are missing out because of a lack of awareness in some quarters to the array of titles available.
“This new analysis suggests that, rather than dumbing down, children are in fact increasingly attracted to and able to deal with grittier and more complex themes, within longer books. Children are becoming exposed to a more open world and this is reflected in their choice of books, featuring bigger, ‘real world’ issues.”
The Carnegie Medal is run by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and celebrates the most outstanding new book for children or young adults. It is the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book award for children’s writing. Winners of the Carnegie Medal are selected by CILIP’s members, with 12 children’s librarians forming the panel of judges.
Karen Robinson, chair of the judging panel for 2013 comments: “The judges are seeing big themes such as family death, disfigurement, genocide and the devastating aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, all handled with honesty, style and beauty.”
It’s not just challenging themes that children are choosing; the results also indicate that the amount that a child is willing to read has increased significantly. The average word count and average page count of the winning books since 1994 have risen. Post 1994, the average word count is 69,079 words, compared to 39,582 words in the previous decade, reflecting a 57% increase. Average page count has almost doubled to 293 pages since 1994, compared with 151 in the 10 years previously.
The analysis comes despite concerns regarding declining literary standards in the UK (with the latest PISA standards placing the UK 25th out of 65 countries and regions). Renaissance Learning’s annual report, What Kids Are Reading, which in 2013 examined the reading habits of over 300,000 students, suggests that children may be under-challenged, particularly from Year 6. However analysis of the Carnegie winners offers positive news; that children can and do enjoy more challenging texts when alerted to them through initiatives such as the Shadowing Scheme.
Another noteworthy trend in the wider context of children’s literature is the growth of HI-LO books that combine a high level of sophistication in terms of a story’s theme with a lower ‘reading age’. For struggling readers, who may have lower reading ages, but are able to comprehend and enjoy more mature themes, HI-LO books provide themes they will enjoy and engage with, while catering to their comprehension level.
Renaissance Learning works with over 2,500 UK schools to improve literacy, and their educational software products are used by over 650,000 students. The company works with some of the most outstanding schools in the UK and has gathered advice and expertise from teachers, librarians and headteachers, to demonstrate how a school can promote a strong reading culture.
The 2013 CILIP Carnegie Medal winner will be announced on Wednesday 19 June 2013. For more information visit www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk.