Tuesday 10 March 2015

What do children say about what they read? Part 1 – by Miriam Craig

Although I write for children, I don’t happen to have any hanging around the house. It’s a little inconvenient. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for them – out in their natural habitats. When I spot one, say on the tube or in a cafe, I try to look extremely bored, while secretly noting their habits, gestures, fashions etc. Then I write down my observations to use in a story somewhere.

But now you’ve gone and given me a platform. So I’ve used it for my own ends and conducted a LARGER, more AMBITIOUS project designed to find out what’s going on in those small, developing brains. What I’ve done is asked real live children to fill in a questionnaire about their reading habits. Sixteen children filled it in, ranging in age from 8 to 13.

Important note: Through an unfortunate stroke of bad luck, many of the children who replied to this questionnaire turned out to be extraordinarily well-read. That’s what happens when you ask your Twitter followers for help, and all the people you know on Twitter are writers. So this sample, as well as being tiny, is completely unrepresentative of anything other than People Miriam Knows Off Twitter. HOWEVER the sample did include some children who are keener on activities other than reading. And anyway, there’s surely something to be gleaned from cross-examining voracious readers? Even if it’s nothing more than funny, snarky answers? I leave you to see for yourselves.

  1.   How much do you like books on a scale of 1-10 (1 the least, 10 the most)?
The average score given was an amazing 9.5, though that was calculated using scores such as ‘11’ (from Hanna, 8) and ‘15’ (from Molly, 11). Many of the children also pointed out an inherent problem with the question, which is that ‘it depends on the book.’ Told you – snarky answers. Here’s what some of them said:
Kit, 13: Overall 6 or 7 but if I love a book, then it takes over my life and becomes a 10.
Elsa, 8: 4, more than homework but less than TV and 100 times less than gymnastics!
Joshua, 10: 9.5 out of 10. I like books less than football but more than TV.
Jess, 13: If it’s a good book, then 10, but if it’s not a good book, then not 10. But I think the good ones are better than hamsters, depending on the hamster.
Sebastian, 9: 10. More than board games but less than computer games.
Eddie, 8: I like them more than school but less than the Wii.

  2.   What are three of your favourite books (or series) and why did you enjoy them so much?
Kit, 13: Hobbit/Lord of the Rings; Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series; Divergent series. They are about things I’m interested in such as stone-age culture, adventure or fantasy.
Molly, 11: Fear by Michael Grant. Misty Falls by Joss Stirling. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I chose these because they're books I re-read a lot.
Hanna, 8: The Sword of Fire by Stewart Hill. Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Phoenix by SF Said. I really like books where the character is plunged into something they don't understand.
Faith, 10: Harry Potter, Hardy Boys and Holly Webb books. Magic, adventure and animals – my favourite things in books!
Elsa, 8: Titchy Witch, Gym Stars and Angela Nicely. I like the Gym Stars books because I do lots of gymnastics!
Joshua, 10: The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence and the Alex Rider series, because they had unexpected things happen, and the How to Train your Dragon books because they are funny.
Rachel, 8: Malory Towers, St Claire’s, and Naughtiest Girl in School. They are all about girls in school and that’s fun.
Indigo, 11: Warrior Cats: The Sight (Erin Hunter), Skulduggery Pleasant (the first one) by Derek Landy, and Pegasus and the Fight for Olympus by Kate O'Hearn. Because they had lots of very likeable characters with relatable attitudes to the events in the book, and I liked the adventure. [Parent adds: These were her exact words.]
Morris, 12: Knife's Edge, Malorie Blackman; The Enemy; The Dead (both Charlie Higson). Because they're about violence, thrills and zombies with deep plot line. [Parent adds: This took some minutes to get out of him, and some help from his younger sister (Indigo); actually rather a lot of help; actually, it's mostly what she said and he agreed.]
Jess, 13: Rooftoppers, Geek Girl, Northern Lights (if I had to choose). Because they were good books. I don’t know.
Joseph, 10: The Tom Gates series because it’s really funny, Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo because it’s realistic, and Awful Auntie by David Walliams because it has a lot of made-up words in it.
Alexander, 11: The Willard Price Adventure series, the Young Bond series, and the CHERUB series. Because they have action, guns, shooting, killing and suspense.
Francesca, 12: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Blood Rose and the Percy Jackson series. Because they’re unputdownable, gripping, suspenseful, unpredictable and tragic-comic.
Sebastian, 9: The Sword of Kuromori, the CHERUB books and the Willard Price Adventure series – because they have sustained action. [Miriam adds: I found out later from Parent that Sebastian also reads Michael Crichton, but that ‘he left them out of his favourites because he understood this is about children's books.’ So basically...Sebastian was humouring me.]
Bill, 10: Boy in the Tower, Percy Jackson: The Last Olympian, Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows (very hard to pick three – I have a lot of favourites). Because they are intense and I always wanted to read on.
Eddie, 8: The Boy in the Dress, Billionaire Boy, Gangsta Granny, all by David Walliams. Because they’re funny.

  3.   What annoys you in a book?
As a writer I found these answers vaguely terrifying. As a reader I agreed wholeheartedly:
Kit, 13: Lazy endings (e.g. ‘he woke up and it was all a dream’) or when something happens that is too unexpected; you feel like you are being tricked.
Molly, 11: Books that go on and on and on.
Faith, 10: When it doesn't start on page 1!
Elsa, 8: When someone talks and distracts me.
Joshua, 10: Misprints.
Rachel, 8: When a story repeats the same thing in another chapter.
Indigo, 11: When other characters block the adventures of my favourite character and/or kill off my favourite character, because my fav character is not usually the main character [Parent adds: i.e. not the 'Mary Sue' character as Indigo puts it.]
Morris, 12: When they kill off the wrong characters and when someone is too stupid to live.
Jess, 13: Vampires – I don’t know.
Joseph, 10: When something that you don’t want to happen happens.
Alexander, 11: When an author repeats a formula. Boring and predictable. Also dislike padding – dragging out a story.
Francesca, 12: If the heroine is feeble and always needs rescuing. I dislike stereotype characters and predictable plots.
Sebastian, 9: Characters with too much power who never struggle.
Bill, 10: Cliffhangers – because I want to know what happens next and sometimes you have to wait for the next book in a series.
Eddie, 8: Stuff where people get angry because it scares me. I don’t like the scary bits.
Hanna, 8: People getting the elements (fire / water / air / earth) wrong and unexplained things. [Miriam: I asked Hanna’s Mum about this business with elements. Hanna just cares about the elements a lot.]

  4.   What colour front cover do you like best?
Five answered that they didn’t know or didn’t mind. The colour mentioned most often was red, which came up five times. The colours orange, blue, white, black and bright green were each mentioned once. Others said:
Jess, 13: It depends what the picture is.
Joseph, 10: Bright colours.
Sebastian, 9: I don’t really have one but would say that bright colours stand out more.
Faith, 10: Any bright colours, but rubbish books could have a purple cover which is my favourite, and a brilliant book could have a dull black cover.

  5.   Do you mind whether a book is fat or thin? Would that affect whether you’ll read it?
Nine out of the sixteen children said they didn’t mind. This wasn’t quite what I was expecting; I thought more would prefer thinner books. But then again, many of these children are avid readers. Some of the answers:
Hanna, 8: It depends. If I'm just doing it to distract me, I don't mind. If I want to properly read it, then I prefer fat books.
Elsa, 8: I like thin books so I can read them quick.
Rachel, 8: Yes, I would choose fatter books because then you can enjoy reading them for longer.
Alexander, 11: No, not unless it’s excessively fat, e.g. Lord of the Rings – see earlier comment about padding.
Francesca, 12: I usually read thicker books with a bigger story. I wouldn’t read a thin book; it’s unsatisfying.
Eddie, 8: I’ve answered enough questions now. [Parent adds: Sorry.]

Thank you, Eddie. On that note, let’s stop here. Thanks to all the children and their parents for their wonderful cooperation. For Part II of Miriam’s Incredibly Unscientific Reading Questionnaire for Kids, check back here on April 1st – a fitting date, don’t you think? I can promise you bookish snacks, young novelists, adventure, and poo. So, everything you’ve ever wanted.

I’d love to know what you think of the results so far. Hit me with it in the comments.

Miriam Craig
On Twitter and Instagram: @miriamhcraig


  1. Just goes to prove the point that children are hilarious. And Miriam, any time you wanna come hang out with my children (ie. babysit) for more scientific research (oh that sounds dodgy) on BOOKS, just say!

  2. Yes! That's probably one of the main points I've taken from doing this - that children are hilarious. As well as lots of more serious things about how all children are different etc etc. And thanks Clare, I TOTALLY want to come and experiment on your children. Umm....

  3. Great post! Good to see a lot of things I tell my students in the bad things answers...

    1. Yes! I think these children would make fabulous readers for literary agencies....

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  5. This is so great - especially 'what annoys you' printing this out!

  6. I think books are better than hamsters but not as good as dogs, depending on the dogs. Oh wait. I'm not middle grade anymore. But still. Really enjoyed reading this, Miriam, and when I finished I decided to give up writing and take up something that doesn't involve the scrutiny of children.

  7. OMG this is brilliant and hilarious. Well done Miriam for collating these :D

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    2. Twas a pleasure and an honour!

  8. Was curious about how my children would answer. They were very serious about their answers!
    Question 1
    T (14) Depends what book it is but 10.
    B (11) I don't know. 5?
    W (9) I would say ten.
    Question 2
    T (14) 'The Fault in our Stars,' 'The Shock of the Fall,' 'Jane Eyre' because they are well written and have good metaphors. I liked the characters.
    B (11) 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,' 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid.' 'Kensuki's Kingdom' because two are about battles and the other is very funny.
    W(9) 'Mog, The Forgetful Cat,' 'The Selfish Crocodile,' 'Star Wars Academy series' because I'm dyslexic so pictures are important to me and I find a lot of reading very tiring.
    Question 3
    T (14) Bad grammar and mistakes.
    B (11) When the main character should be the one who does the best thing but then another character who's not so good saves the day.
    W (9) When it's a children's book but it has long, complicated words.
    Question 4
    T (14) It doesn't matter,
    B (11) Metallic, shiny dark blue.
    W (9) Colourful like they're popping out.
    Question 5
    T (14) I don't mind fat books or thin.
    B (11) I mind if it's super, super thin or super, super fat.
    W (9) Sometimes. I mind if it's all writing.

    1. Thank you so much Ele for adding to the questionnaire! I love 'metallic, shiny dark blue.' So specific. Faaaaabulous!

  9. This is brilliant Miriam - given me a fab idea!

    1. Oooh that sounds intriguing. I WANT TO KNOW!

  10. Love the answers to Q3 and Q4. Q3 is a bible for writers, I must say. Q4 - for designers - see the colour doesn't matter - don't sweat the small stuff - the story inside with no lazy ending, with no cliffhanger ending that starts on page 1 and doesn't talk too much. :)

  11. My daughter Jasmine,12 has answered:
    1. 10
    2. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine - written so beautifully and sad, I just like it; Sweet by Kathryn Littlewood - about magic and cake with talking animals, fun and full of adventure; Swift by R.J. Anderson - not a typical fairy story, very different and cool
    3. When the ending is too predictable; if it ends on a cliffhanger but there's no sequel; when the plot and storyline is good but it's written badly

    4. Don't go by colour, goes by picture e.g. Sweet has mouse eating a cake; she goes by the blurb

    5. if it's too thin she might assume its a baby book unless she's read the blurb. If it's fat feels like it might be a good book with lots of build up to a good adventure and she likes that

    I'll ask Louis later but he's watching TV and hard to drag him away!

  12. Yes, Question # 3! Shall post those answers over my computer immediately.