Dan Kois:

Most alarmingly, kids in third and fourth grade are beginning to stop reading for fun. It’s called the “Decline by 9,” and it’s reaching a crisis point for publishers and educators. According to research by the children’s publishers Scholastic, at age 8, 57 percent of kids say they read books for fun most days; at age 9, only 35 percent do. This trend started before the pandemic, experts say, but the pandemic accelerated things. “I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how disruptive the pandemic was on middle grade readers,” one industry analyst told Publishers Weekly. And everyone I talked to agreed that the sudden drop-off in reading for fun is happening at a crucial age—the very age when, according to publishing lore, lifetime readers are made. “If you can keep them interested in books at that age, it will foster an interest in books the rest of their life,” said Brenna Connor, an industry analyst at Circana, the market research company that runs Bookscan. “If you don’t, they don’t want to read books as an adult.” 

Obviously this is bad news, but let’s remember the context: Do kids do anything for fun these days? They’re not allowed to play, only to have “supervised leisure activities.” Everything is grinding and striving and measured performance. Are they even given enough time alone to make reading possible? If kids go from school to music lessons to the sport of the season, or to various after-school programs, and they’re given phones to occupy their every free instant, of course they won’t read. But then, in such cases not-reading isn’t the worst of their problems.