Lighting a Spark for Reading

I was quite impressed with this advert for the Kindle Reader from Amazon when it appeared during prime-time TV on Saturday night. It features a number of children extolling the virtues of reading, and seems to send out a very positive message to other kids. Even this sceptical viewer was feeling quite uplifted, especially as it appeared during the commercial break in one of our most popular television talent shows, a spectacle which often reminds me of the classic Groucho Marx quote: “I find television very educating. Whenever somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

Predictably, it wasn’t long before the advert, rather than the show, was the subject of a conversation on Twitter, where one perceptive viewer/tweeter was quick to point out that it appeared to reinforce the commonly-held view that girls read and boys………well……..usually don’t. I must admit that I hadn’t noticed this on first viewing so I went back to check. What I discovered was that there are two versions of the advert, one for the UK and another for the US market, and while in the US version, there is more or less an equal number of boys and girls, in the UK version girls outnumber boys by approximately two to one. This in itself raises a number of interesting questions.

Are Amazon aware of differences in reading habits, or was the difference in the adverts purely accidental?

Is the perception (or indeed the reality) that girls read and boys don’t, only a British thing?

Are there real differences between reading habits in the USA and the UK?

Are the adverts themselves likely to reinforce  or challenge the stereotypes around reading?

Is reading on a mobile device more likely to appeal to boys rather than girls?

What are the likely long-term implications – for readers and teachers – of reading from screens instead of paper books?

I have also uploaded the US version of the advertisement here so that you can judge for yourself. If nothing else, I think showing both versions to your class would be a great starter for discussion, along with the questions I have raised. If you are really ‘up for it’, as they say on X-Factor, having your students make their own version – with Kindle readers or ‘real’ books, or indeed a variety of reading materials – has the potential to be a very worthwhile project. Just think of the creative buzz as they write their scripts (I love reading because……….), choose the best ‘actors’, pick their favourite books, seek out the best locations and bring the whole thing together. As an added bonus, there’s a real ‘job’ for everyone  in the class and a vested interest in making it work. Lights! Camera! Literacy in Action!

Further Reading: Learners as Producers blogpost by Steve Wheeler.

11 thoughts on “Lighting a Spark for Reading

  1. Wow, yeah that UK version is totally skewed to young girls as readers! Um, from my trips to the US I would say there is a *much* bigger emphasis on wide reading there than here in Australia, and so perhaps also more than in the UK (?) What do you think?

    • Hi Kelli,
      Interesting comment. It isn’t something I had ever considered before, and would have guessed that all three cultures would be broadly similar. I wonder if any of our American colleagues can shed any light?
      Let me try Twitter.

  2. I decided to use this with a tricky S3 (age 14) class last period on Wednesday as I ‘m keen to get them more interested in reading and to get them talking about books. We started with some discussion of our own reading habits and what reading meant to us. I asked them to try and find positives, even if they weren’t huge fans of reading and got a lot of really honest comments e.g. “I’m not a big fan of reading but I read this book in the holidays and I’m really proud of myself” or “I don’t really like reading but I did enjoy reading…”. A great start!
    I then explained that we were going to look at a short video with some further thoughts on what reading meant to the participants. As soon as they saw the word “kindle” on screen they wanted to offer opinions on ebooks and print books, often based on parental input (“my mum prefers print books because she likes to hold them and turn the pages”; “I prefer print books because I love the smell of a new book”; “ebooks are great for holidays”.)
    We watched the clip and had some discussion, then I suggested we try counting up the numbers of boys and girls in the ad. It was quickly realised that there were roughly double the number of girls, at which point I used some of the questions from this post to further develop the discussion with really super results. I then explained that there was a different version of the ad in the US. “Can we watch it?” They asked. “What a great idea!” I responded and suggested counting up the girls and boys again to see if there was a difference. This led to the lesson ending with a discussion of why this might be and what might be the best approach in the UK.
    We ran out of time for any more, however given the time of day and the nature of the class, I couldn’t have asked for more. They engaged with the idea and wanted to talk about their reading. In fact, every lesson since then they have asked when their next library period is (it’s Wednesday). Thanks for the great idea. I’ll definitely return to this with this particular class and perhaps look at it with other groups too.

    • Wow. Thanks for posting Allison. So pleased to hear about the positive response from your class of ‘tricky’ 14 yr-olds. I know exactly what you mean! I wonder how they would respond if you were to suggest that they make their own version of the video and post on YouTube? Please come back and tell us what happens.

  3. Hi Bill,

    I realise this is a bit of a late posting but I’ve just come across you on twitter and have been catching up to speed on some of your posts here. Some incredibly interesting stuff – thanks for sharing.

    I’m Literacy Leader at a secondary school in Greater London and am passionate about sharing a love of reading with the students there. I’ve recently started my own blog here: …but also thought this report by the National Literacy is quite relevant to the question of boys and girls engagement with reading…
    Seen it?

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Josie,
      It’s never too late! Thanks for connecting. I haven’t seen the Literacy Trust report so I’ll put it on the ‘to read’ list, as I will with your blog, which looks very appealing at first sight. Look forward to following you on Twitter as well.

      • Bill,

        Thanks for your reply. The report is a year or so old now, but is still relevant in offering an insight into the gap in engagement between genders. It will be great to be able to keep in touch via twitter.

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