What do children like to read about? Research suggests it's not what we would expect.


Do Children like to read about Fantasy?

Recent research from Lilliard at the University of Virginia suggests that children are less interested in fantasy and more interested in doing real practical tasks.  Children may love to pretend they are Harry Potter or R2D2 or Elsa, but Lilliard’s research suggests that children prefer reality. They would like to cut up vegetables, feed a real baby and so on, rather than pretend to do so. 

What does this have to do with writing for children? Well the research also suggests that children learn better from reading about humans doing things, rather than talking animals.  If you think of books and films that children read and see, there are often talking animals. Most Disney books and films have a cute, talking animal sidekick.  However, Lilliard’s research suggests that perhaps children would much rather read and learn about real humans and real animals.

Lilliard and her colleagues looked at more than forty years of research and found that established ideas, such as fantasy play is beneficial to children’s social and mental health are not necessarily true.

Reading is important for a child’s development. It helps them to develop their social skills, learning about the world around them. It helps them to develop their intellectual skills, learning to read, learning how people communicate, learning to write. It also helps them to use their imagination, develop empathy and learn more about the world around them.

When writing for children then, we have to consider what it is that might interest them. Of course children will be interested in fantasy, but we might also consider writing about real people, real animals.  Think about Lassie, the faithful border collie, the subject of many films. She never talked, but watching her, you knew she was going to help her owner and she communicated in her own way. This is realistic.  If Lilliard’s research is correct, children would be more interested in reading about a dog like Lassie or a realistic dog than a talking dog. Or perhaps children like both.

When writing for children, it is important to consider their age group and what they may be interested in.  Children have amazing minds and amazing imaginations. If you want to write for children, encourage them to use that imagination in the real world and the fantasy world

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