Fiction fact: Teens don’t want books for Christmas

THINK again if you were going to buy your teenage child, niece, nephew or godchild a good book for Christmas because the chances are they won’t really mean it when — or if — they say “thank you”.

Only half of 15-year-old girls fancy a book as a present, but they are far more likely than boys to read for enjoyment.

The popularity of video games and rising internet usage among teenagers might be partially behind the fall in reading — only 32% of almost 4,000 Irish 15-year-olds who took part in an international reading ability test last year said it was one of their favourite hobbies, compared to 36% in 2000.

In the same nine years, the proportion of teens who only read if they have to or who don’t read for enjoyment jumped from one-in-three to around 40%, while nearly one-in-four now think reading is a waste of time.

Perhaps the one finding of solace is that teenagers are more likely now than in 2000 to chat about books but, again, this is a far stronger likelihood among girls.

There is also some encouraging evidence on reading habits from book sales in the young adult category, which include teen fiction and graphic novels that appeal largely to the same age group.

The emergence of hugely popular tomes such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series have helped to boost sales in recent years.

According to Nielsen BookScan which monitors most major Irish bookshops, sales for this year look relatively healthy when the closure of a number of large stores is considered.

“Around 1.4 million copies of children’s and young adults’ books were sold in Ireland in 2008 and that rose to 1.7 million last year. It’s looking like 1.3 million sales to the end of November but with Christmas coming up, it will probably finish somewhere in between the last two years’ figures,” said André Breedt, Nielsen BookScan’s head of publisher account management.

“The slight fall this year could be down to the popularity of Stephenie Meyer, who didn’t have as many titles of film-related books this year. But the overall Irish book market has had a bit of a slump in 2010 anyway,” he said.

Other big sellers this year have included Jeff Kinney’s Diary of A Wimpy Kid books, preferred by pre-teen readers, and another favourite is children’s author Jacqueline Wilson. Irish novelist Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant books are also selling well among younger buyers, while Roald Dahl remains a constant favourite.

Clearly, the fall in interest in reading is not having too big an effect on book sales, but parents are being strongly urged to encourage younger children in particular to take up reading as a hobby.

With strong research evidence show children who read regularly at home will do better in school, the National Parents Council-Primary (NPC-P) asks everybody buying a Christmas present for a child to consider giving them a book.

“A book is an affordable present and promoting reading is an invaluable gift. Make your gift more special by spending time with your child reading and enjoying the book together,” said council chief executive Áine Lynch.

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