What Kids Are Reading—in your state

What are students in your state reading?

What Kids Are Reading is the world’s largest annual study of K–12 students’ reading habits. The 2019 report examines the reading records of more than 8.7 million students across the United States to identify the most-read books in the country.

Here, we take a deeper dive into that data set to examine what kids are reading in different states—and how those states differ from the nation and from each other.

For this analysis, we looked at the most-read books for the US as well as for ten states across the country: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Three sets of Top 10 lists were reviewed: elementary school (grades 1–5), middle school (grades 6–8), and high school (grades 9–12).

We discovered some of the ways kids’ reading habits—regardless of where they live—are the same, and how geography may make them differ.

What do kids in elementary school read?

In elementary school (grades 1–5), four authors dominate the most-read list:

  • Books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

  • Books in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey

  • Books written by Dr. Seuss

  • Wonder by RJ Palacio

Regardless of their location, most elementary students tend to gravitate to this same set of titles and authors. This is true both at the national level and at the state level, with a few exceptions.

On a national level, the Wimpy Kid series dominates the list, securing five of the Top 10 slots, with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway taking the #1 spot. The #2 spot is occupied by a single book, Wonder. The Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham comes in at #3. While the first Dog Man title doesn’t appear until #4, Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, the series overall has three of the Top 10 slots.

In the majority of states examined, these titles populate the Top 10 lists—although the order sometimes varies, with Wonder occasionally beating out the Wimpy Kid series to take the #1 spot.

Of the 100 titles pulled for the state analysis, only 9 books do not fall into the four categories that make up by the national list. Notable exceptions include Florida, where Night of the Living Worms by Dave Coverly takes a surprising second place, and New York, where Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan occupies third place (although all other books on both the Florida and New York lists do fall into the four national categories).

Louisiana is particularly unique, with five of its Top 10 slots being unique titles: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff is #3, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis is #5, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is #7, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan is #9, and Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold rounds out the list at #10.

Elementary National List of Most-Read Books:

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway by Jeff Kinney

  2. Wonder by RJ Palacio

  3. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

  4. Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties by Dav Pilkey

  5. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

  6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney

  7. Dog Man Unleashed by Dav Pilkey

  8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down by Jeff Kinney

  9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney

  10. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney

The Getaway

What do kids in middle school read?

In middle school (grades 6–8), students’ tastes get a little more diverse. While the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and Wonder by RJ Palacio reappear, Dog Man and Dr. Seuss have vanished, replaced by more mature titles such as:

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

In addition, there’s greater variety between the national and state lists—and between different states as well. In all but two states, the Top 10 list includes at least one book or series not on the national list.

For the national list, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway once again takes the #1 spot, followed by Wonder at #2. A new contender, The Giver, takes over the third-place spot. Interestingly, all three of these books appear on all the state lists examined, although sometimes with different rankings (for example, The Giver takes first place in Washington and Louisiana, while Wonder places first in Texas).

Three other books from the national list also appear in most—but not all—of the state lists. The Outsiders by SE Hinton is missing from only New York’s Top 10 List. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan are missing from only two states (New York and Colorado for the former, and Texas and Louisiana for the latter).

Perhaps more interesting are the unique titles that appear on only one state’s list. For example, Tangerine by Edward Bloor makes the Top 10 list only in Washington. Other books uniquely beloved by a single state include:

  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse in Louisiana

  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt in Wisconsin

  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry in Pennsylvania

  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis in Texas

  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis in New York

New York is a particularly singular state, with four of its Top 10 books not appearing on the national list or on any other state’s list. It also has the distinction of being the only state with nonfiction in its Top 10, with two titles: Smile and Sisters, both by Raina Telgemeier.

While some of these differences may be reflections of differences in states’ curricula and required reading expectations, others may represent regional trends driven by students.

Middle School National List of Most-Read Books:

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway by Jeff Kinney

  2. Wonder by RJ Palacio

  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry

  4. The Outsiders by SE Hinton

  5. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

  6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down by Jeff Kinney

  7. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

  8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Long Haul by Jeff Kinney

  9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney

  10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Wonder

What do kids in high school read?

In high school (grades 9–12), students spend most of their time reading titles that we generally associate with assigned reading for language arts and English classes. The lists are filled with literary classics such as:

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

From the What Kids Are Reading report, we know that students are reading less in high school than in any other grades. On average, high schoolers are reading ten minutes or less per day. This low daily reading time, combined with the academic nature of the most-read book lists, seems to indicate that many students are only reading the titles they absolutely have to for their coursework—and little else.

Yet, some students are still reading titles of their own choosing. On the national list, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins comes in at #6, followed by The Maze Runner by James Dashner at #8 and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher at #9. The state lists offer some additional popular titles, notably The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, which were all turned into movies (The Hate U Give, The Road, and Love, Simon respectively).

Perhaps because high schoolers are primarily reading for their classes, and states often have different language arts standards and curricula, state lists differ quite notably from the national list for high school.

All the state lists examined had titles that did not appear on the national list, ranging from one differing title (California and Pennsylvania) all the way up to seven differing titles (New York). Many states had unique books that did not appear in any other state’s Top 10 list, including:

  • Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon in California

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie in Washington

  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in Colorado

  • The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell in Texas

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in Wisconsin

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka in Louisiana

  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in New York

Nonfiction is more common on the high school lists than in elementary or middle school. While it appears on the national list only once, in the form of Night by Elie Wiesel, nonfiction pops up on multiple state lists. In addition to Night on eight state lists, there are: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (Washington), The Basics of Cell Life with Max Axiom, Super Scientist by Amber J. Keyser (New York), and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (Washington and Wisconsin).

High School National List of Most-Read Books:

  1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  3. Night by Elie Wiesel

  4. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

  7. Animal Farm by George Orwell

  8. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

  9. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

  10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Of Mice and Men

What do kids in your state read?

What books are on the Top 10 list for your state? Thanks to the Custom Report Builder tool, you can easily generate a list of most-read books for your state. You can further filter your list by grade, interest level, fiction vs. nonfiction, and more.

Start by visiting the Custom Report Builder at www.renaissance.com/wkar-custom.

When you arrive on the page, click on the plus symbol next to “Tips for using the Custom Report Builder” for helpful information about the filters you can use.

Custom Report Builder

On the Custom Report Builder tool, select your state from the drop-down menu. Give the tool a moment to reload—remember, it’s looking at millions of reading records—and you’ll see a list of your state’s most-read books.

Custom Report Builder

By default, this list will display data for grades 1–12. You can narrow the list to just one grade by using the Grade filter. You can also select multiple grades at a time if you’d prefer to see the top books for a grade range rather than a single grade level.

Custom Report Builder

You can also filter by text complexity level using the ATOS Level slider, Interest Level (select one or multiple), Fiction vs. Nonfiction, and Language (English or Spanish).

When you’re finished, click the green “Generate My Report” button for a PDF of your custom book list, which you can print or save.

Ready to see the most-read books in your state? Visit the What Kids Are Reading Custom Report Builder tool today! And don’t forget to download your copy of the new 2019 What Kids Are Reading report for exclusive research analyses, tips to boost reading growth, author essays, and more.

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