The Reading Agency has reported an 8% drop in take-up of its Summer Reading Challenge, with 699,076 children across the UK taking part in 2018's Beano-themed challenge compared to more than 760,000 children last year.
According to the charity's figures, 671,002 children aged 4-11 and 28,074 pre-school participants took part in this year's "Mischief Makers" challenge, inspired by the children’s title Beano that celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018. Libraries ran 18,768 Mischief Makers-themed events during the Summer Reading Challenge, and 83,419 children joined the library as new members.
Commenting on the "slight" 8% drop in take-up, The Reading Agency said it is "working with our library partners to understand more about what caused this, and what we need to do to ensure the Challenge remains a popular, successful programme for many years to come". It said further: "All the feedback we have had from participants, parents and carers testifies to the power that participation has on building an enjoyment of reading among children - which is why we and our library partners want to make sure that the challenge can continue to thrive and grow."
The Summer Reading Challenge is an annual initiative, the aim of which is to get children (aged between 4 and 11) to read any six books of their choice from their local library during the summer holidays. It is run in almost all libraries in the UK - with 96% of all authorities in England, Wales and Scotland participating in 2018 - and is free to enter, although donations are encouraged.
Library campaigner Ian Antice called the decline in participation "quite serious", suggesting that the campaign would benefit from better outreach on the part of libraries. "From talking to various people, the view is that those library services still doing outreach (and most specifically school assemblies) for it are doing far better than those who no longer do such things," he wrote for Public Libraries News. "There may be other factors - the theme (possibly, although I liked the Beano myself) and the weather - but, dudes, when you no longer tell people about your product, or can't afford to do so, then people may not get to know about it. I don't need an MA in Librarianship to work that out."
More encouragingly, a higher proportion of boys took part this year, up 1% on last year to 45% of all participants. There was also a 2% increase in boys completing the challenge. According to research cited by the Reading Agency, only one in four boys read outside of school every day.
Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of The Reading Agency, said: "The Summer Reading Challenge remains incredibly popular and is still an effective programme: 98% of library services who participated this year intend to take part again next year. We will work closely with the library sector to understand the reasons behind this year's drop in participation and to develop the Challenge accordingly. We need to ensure that mechanisms are in place to enable libraries and their partners to continue to reach children with the Summer Reading Challenge, especially those who would benefit most from taking part."
The theme for 2019's Summer Reading Challenge will be "Space Chase". As well as coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the Moon landings, the Reading Agency said it hoped the theme will have "intergenerational appeal", encouraging parents to read with their children. The guest illustrator is Adam Stower.