Today is World Book Day 2017, a worldwide celebration of books, reading and authors in over 100 countries. Research findings have indicated that book-reading is associated with higher levels of wellbeing and empathy: 76 per cent of adults say that reading improves their life, according to figures cited by the Reading Agency.

Reading is very effective at boosting children's language. Children who enter school with good language skills have better chances in school, better chances of entering higher education, and better economic success in adulthood. Several ESRC-funded studies have explored how reading and literacy increase language skills and improve life outcomes. Below are a few examples of current and past research into reading and literacy.

Children who read regularly with their parents or carers tend to learn language faster, enter school with a larger vocabulary of words and become more successful readers in school – but recent studies suggest that shared reading work less effectively for children from disadvantaged backgrounds than originally thought. Promoting language development via shared reading, a project led by Professor Caroline Rowland, aims to determine how family-based shared book reading can increase children's language skills, and develop an effective language-boosting tool for children from different backgrounds. The research will explore what parents do and say when reading aloud with their children, and why this makes reading so effective at boosting children's language.

Research by Professors Jane Oakhill and Kate Cain into primary school children's reading comprehension has had a direct impact on educational practice and national policy in the UK and throughout South America. Their findings showed that difficulties in reading comprehension include problems with making inferences or 'reading between the lines', understanding story structure and being able to assess one's own understanding of the text. These skills predict children's level of reading comprehension over time.

The rapid increase in e-books has led to commercial interest in tablet and smartphone digital books for three to five-year-olds – but the educational value of many of the books currently on the market is questionable. A study led by Dr Natalia Kucirkova investigates how children's language development and reading experience can be enhanced by using digital personalised books. In children’s literature, personalised digital books and apps can allow children to determine different story endings and add their own pictures and audio-recordings. As well as observing parent-child reading practices with digital books, she will interview parents, early years teachers and app designers to explore the possibilities and challenges of personalisation in children's digital books.
      •  Kucirkova: Personalised Books: Exciting But Also Risky Times for Children's Stories (Huffington Post)

Researchers at the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies have been exploring factors associated with children’s poor verbal skills and behaviour problems. The research shows that there are links between regular bedtimes and reading with children, and better outcomes for the children in behaviour and how well they get on at school.
      •  Give every child a good start in life (ICLS presentation – see slides 10-14)
      •  A bedtime story (Child of Our Time blog post)

Professor Cathy Nutbrown developed a framework to support parents in raising their children's literacy – by reading stories together, sharing rhymes and images. The ORIM family literacy framework was adapted in co-operation with early-years practitioners in nurseries and primary schools. The original 20 practitioners shared their work resulting in around 300 practitioners getting involved – between them reaching 6,000 families. Professor Nutbrown's research has influenced local policy and national practice in parents' role in literacy.

For further ESRC-funded research in this area, explore our Research topics section or our Research catalogue of previous research.