Press Centre

The death of a classic

Kids turning their backs on the classics in favour of Harry Potter and David Beckham

  • Asda research shows that whole generation of children have turned their backs on classic literature
  • 17% of children thought Fagin was a Manchester United footballer
  • 6% of children thought Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is the title of Simon Cowell’s autobiography compared with almost half of all kids who can name the title of David Beckham’s autobiography


In the week that sales of children’s books have soared by 4.9% research from Asda shows that although sales of Twilight and Harry Potter are increasing many children have little or no knowledge of classic literature. The supermarket, who polled over 100 children and 2,000 parents on their reading habits, is predicting that should the decline in classics continue the likes of Bronte and Dickens could be extinct within a generation.

When asked about the book Moby Dick, 40% of children thought the title character was a pop star, 40% an explorer and only 16% a whale. However, when asked to name David Beckham’s autobiography (My Side) almost 50% were able to answer correctly showing that classic literature is facing a slow death in favour of celebrity culture.

When asked about the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 60% of children had never heard of it, a quarter thought it was a song by The Beatles, whilst nearly one in ten thought it was the title of Simon Cowell’s autobiography further demonstrating the power of celebrity.

One in five kids (17%) thought they had seen Fagin lining up alongside Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand as a Manchester United player this season. However, the power of film and musicals has prevailed, with 69% of children correctly identifying him as the villain from Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist.

When questioned on the books they have enjoyed, children reinforced their love of modern literature with 28% having read Harry Potter versus just 3% for Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men. This is a rather different picture to their parents generation where 35% of parents remembered reading Jane Eyre as a child compared to just 4% of today’s generation.

Despite the lack of knowledge of classic literature, bedtime stories aren’t a thing of the past with almost half of all parents polled reading bedtime stories to their children on a regular basis. However, of those questioned 55% admit regularly putting their kids in front of the TV instead of a story. But games consoles aren’t quite the distraction to literature they are often imagined to be, only 22% of children play a Wii or Playstation at bedtime instead of a story.

Dewi Williams, Papershop Category Marketing Manager at Asda commented:
“This week like almost every other the children’s best sellers list is dominated by modern literature including the likes of Twilight and Harry Potter. Books like Oliver Twist and Wind in the Willows which have been ‘must-reads’ for generations are getting dangerously close to extinction.

“Asda’s Big Read campaign is reducing the cost of these classic books to encourage children big and small to indulge in classic literature before it literally dies out. But it’s not just kids these books will appeal to but adults too after all, you’re never too old to enjoy Dickens or Bronte.”

This week Asda will be launching its Big Read campaign in-store by introducing hundreds of cut-price classic novels into the store with many priced at just £3 or less. The titles include Stig of the Dump, Wind in the Willows, The Borrowers and the Railway Children as well as adult classic novels such as One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Dracula.

Asda’s Big Read is supported by ex-Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman who has recorded a reading for AsdaFM.

Below is a list of some of the books available in store for £3 until 30th January:

Charlotte’s Web £3
Stig of the Dump £3
Wind in the Willows £3
Black Beauty £3
Railway Children £3
Matilda £3
The Twits £3
BFG £3
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory £3
Jane Eyre £3
Moby Dick £3
Lord of the Flies £3
The Gruffalo £3
Posted in Press Centre on 19 January 2010