Blogger Chelsey Roos

Has COVID Changed How Kids Read?

Have you noticed a change in how the kids and families you serve are reading in the COVID era? Two years into the pandemic, we’ve had an intense educational disruption. Some kids were in remote learning for months. Others have been going back and forth between in-person and remote, or in-person and almost nothing. Some families have moved to homeschooling. Some kids have had parents and caregivers on hand to help them through the chaos. Others haven’t. Has all this added up to changes in what and how our kids are reading?

Research On Literacy Levels After COVID

According to a recent New York Times article titled, “It’s ‘Alarming:’ Children Are Severely Behind in Reading,” some schools have begun to see that the educational disruption caused by COVID has lead to a lot of little readers falling behind. The article refers to one study out of Virginia, which found that “early reading skills were at a 20-year low this fall.” Realistically, this is likely to be a problem that we see in more than just Virginia – though not every family has been impacted in the same way. 

We know that many families enter the education system already at a disadvantage, and these families have been hit hardest. The New York Times states that “Black and Hispanic children, as well as those from low-income families, those with disabilities and those who are not fluent in English, have fallen the furthest behind.” This means that kids and families that were already in need of literacy support may need even more now. 

Phonics Books and Comfort Reads

An infographic shows 3 types of books used as comfort reading in the COVID era: favorite characters, favorite series, and graphic novels.
Favorite characters, series, and graphic novels make sense as comfort reading in difficult times. (Image created by author in Canva)

Anecdotally, I have noticed changes in what and how the kids that come into my library are reading. I’ve had many more requests for phonics and sight reading books from caregivers. I notice more early elementary school students hanging out in the picture book section instead of the early readers and chapter book section. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there are lots of great picture books for older students! But it is a change.

In older readers, I’ve seen a big drive toward comfort reading, and some apprehension towards new authors, series, and genres. Elementary and middle school readers have always loved graphic novels (also not a bad thing!), but now I see more and more readers who are very reluctant to leave the graphic novel section to try something new. I see a similar anxiety in some kids who are afraid to break away from their most beloved series. Some kids who come into the library seem at a loss for where to even begin looking for a good book. This might be partly because they haven’t had as much experience navigating a library. It might also be because kids this age are very peer-driven, and they’ve been missing that peer-to-peer connection of recommending and sharing favorite books.

What Is A Fourth Grade Book Anymore?

One of the biggest differences I’ve seen is in what might be suitable suggestions for each grade. Kids have always benefitted from a wide range of suggestions at different reading levels, because every kid is different. However, recently I’ve been adjusting my idea of what might be good recommendations for a certain age or grade, because the spectrum of where a kid might be has grown in both directions. Some kids are currently needing more support and fewer challenges when they read, and at the other end of the spectrum, some have spent so much time at home reading that they’ve outpaced what might be age-appropriate for them. There have never been clear distinctions between, say, a fourth-grade book and a fifth-grade book, but for me the waters seem to have gotten even muddier.

Have you noticed any changes in the way kids at your library are reading in the COVID era? Has it changed how you work with them? We don’t yet have all the data we need to truly understand how COVID is affecting student literacy – that research is still in progress. But for now, we are seeing and working with kids every day, and can share what we’re observing.

Headshot of author Chelsey Roos
(Image by author)

Today’s blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and is a children’s librarian for the Santa Clara County Library.

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group, and IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials


  1. Jan L.

    “…how COVID is affecting student literacy”

    A Coronavirus cannot affect student literacy; school closures and community lockdowns (maybe even masks?) can. Precise language matters. It affects how we see the world and the decisions we make in the future.

  2. Dawn Treude

    I absolutely see my older students (4th-8th grades) choosing books from their past. Some of the fantastic newer MG fiction I’ve brought in over the last fifteen months (I joined my campus in September 2020) has no circs because I can’t generate enough interest in trying something new. My top priority is making sure students feel welcomed in the library. My approach vastly differs from my predecessors, but my faculty has warmed to the fact that an active, used, and (gasp) a somewhat noisy library is exactly what our students need right now. It’s important to make sure I value the choice of a book, not its reading level.

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