Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Gender wars

A new survey traces the divide between elementary boys' and girls' reading tastes

Gender wars
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining. You've read all of your free articles.

Full access isn’t far.

We can’t release more of our sound journalism without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.

Get started for as low as $3.99 per month.

Current WORLD subscribers can log in to access content. Just go to "SIGN IN" at the top right.


Already a member? Sign in.

What do kids like to read? Figuring out the answer to that question would make authors, publishers, teachers, and parents happy. Renaissance Learning, parent company of Accelerated Reading (AR), believes it knows the answers based on the number of AR quizzes taken by children in grades 1 through 12 on 115,000 different books for which quizzes are available. In 2007 more than 3 million students in nearly 10,000 schools used AR's internet-based system, allowing Renaissance Learning to track 78 million books read and to develop detailed statistics about the reading tastes of boys and girls by grade and region.

Based on the report, it's possible to make some generalizations about the reading tastes of elementary schoolchildren. Although boys and girls read many of the same books, starting in 2nd grade real differences show up. Since many of the lists include titles that are probably chosen by teachers as either read-alouds or class books, the differences aren't as pronounced as they might otherwise be, but it's clear that girls are more adventuresome readers than boys, who often stick with the authors they like; girls tend to be more eclectic.

Movies also influence what kids are reading. Harry Potter; Holes; The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; and The Bridge to Terabithia were all recent movies and all popular books, according to this report.

Kids in 1st grade, both boys and girls, like Dr. Seuss (five books in the top 20), Eric Carle, the Clifford series, Goodnight Moon, and Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Moose a Muffin series. But they also like stories about Biscuit by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (five books).

In 2nd grade children are still reading Seuss, Numeroff, Carle, and old favorites like Corduroy, Amelia Bedelia, and Harry Allard's Miss Nelson books. They also read Cynthia Rylant's Henry and Mudge stories. The first glimmers of a trend are visible: Boys like books with goofy titles and subjects. The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash shows up on both boys' and girls' lists, but The Principal from the Black Lagoon and The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon are favorites of only boys. Girls are enjoying Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

The 3rd grade list includes some books that are probably teacher read-alouds, judging by their difficulty: Charlotte's Web, Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China, The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett.

Dogzilla by Dav Pilkey, Where the Wild Things Are, and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs make both lists. But by 3rd grade, girls are reading Junie B. Jones books (three of the top 20), boys are reading Black Lagoon books (three of the top 20), and the boys have added a new favorite: Captain Underpants (two books).

Most of the books on the boys' and girls' 4th grade lists are the same: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Because of Winn Dixie, Charlotte's Web, Sarah, Plain and Tall, Stone Fox, Bridge to Terabithia, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Holes by Louis Sachar, and Akiak: A Tale from the Iditarod. Yet eight of the top 20 boys' books are Captain Underpants stories, which are completely missing from the girls' list.

Instead the girls are reading a variety of books: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, Finding the Titanic by Robert D. Ballard, Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. One interesting twist: Kids in the top 10 percent of readers in 4th grade love Lemony Snicket books (seven books in the top 20) and Harry Potter (five books), a trend that continues in the 5th and 6th grades.

Once again the 5th grade lists show boys and girls reading many of the same books. New authors include Lois Lowry, Gary Paulsen, Elizabeth George Speare, and C.S. Lewis. But the books that kids are choosing on their own still show marked differences in taste. Captain Underpants books continue to amuse 5th grade boys (six books) but not girls, judging from the Accelerated Reader quizzes.

Fourteen of the most popular books in the 6th grade are on both boys' and girls' lists, again probably reflecting classroom reading selections. These common books include Maniac Magee, Where the Red Fern Grows, Tuck Everlasting, and The Cay. But differences appear: Boys like Harry Potter more than girls do (six of the top 20 for boys, two for girls) and girls like books by Lemony Snicket slightly more than boys do (six books to four).

Susan Olasky

Susan is a former WORLD book reviewer, story coach, feature writer, and editor. She has authored eight historical novels for children and resides with her husband, Marvin, in Austin, Texas.



Please wait while we load the latest comments...