How Books Have Changed in the Last Century

We often hear people say: “As long as my child is reading something, that’s all that matters.” 

That’s not true with many children’s books today. “Any” book isn’t providing an academic or emotional benefit and can actually harm both academic growth and character. 

For several years, I have deeply studied and analyzed books and how they have changed over the last 150 years and am excited to share my fascinating discoveries with you! 

Looking at the first few words of a book

Comparing the first few sentences of books from a century ago and today shows that, overall, books have become much less complex because the trend is to use much simpler sentences. This type of writing does not make a brain work as hard. In turn, a child is not learning skills such as focus, concentration, or increasing his or her attention span. 

It’s eye-opening to compare the first sentences of some best-selling books in recent years for middle grades on Amazon.com and those from top-selling books for the same age group in the late 19th century. 

Here are the first sentences from Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell:

“The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked into a plowed field, and on the other we looked over a gate at our master’s house, which stood by the roadside . . .” 

Now, here are the first sentences from the Number 2 best-selling book for middle grades in 2019:

I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks. People call me the freeway gorilla, the ape at Exit 8.” 

Did you also notice the difference in the number of descriptive words (adjectives and adverbs)? When I compared the first five sentences from the five top-selling books from each year, the differences were astounding. 

The impact of books on education and character

So many children’s books today, I propose, are composed largely of simple sentences centered on constant thrill and adventure with little to no description or challenging words. These things actually hurt the academic growth of children, not help. Not only do the easy-read books not offer much academic benefit, but they make it hard for children to be able to read or want to read books of higher value.

Books have the power to improve writing and concentration, but not if they are void of quality writing and stripped of sensory language, poetic devices, and varied sentence structure.

Books that give deep and meaningful insights into human life can help children gain more depth of character, stronger analytical thinking skills, greater empathy for others, and increased knowledge. 

You truly can change your children’s lives by blessing them with good and beautiful books, helping them climb higher through the best literature available. Fill their lives with books that bring them to places, people, and language that leaves them strong and immovable in their faith. 

Many, if not most popular books today, are damaging these things because they are desensitizing children to violence and low character (bad manners, emotional instability), reducing their ability to recognize and feel empathy for others. 

God and faith were the main themes in the vast majority of books from that time, and today it is hard to find a best-selling children’s book for middle or older grades that is wholesome and appropriate. It is amazing to see the flood of toxic messages that are influencing children and weakening families.

Learn more

I address these issues in much more depth in the video below. Watch this together with your children. Talk to them about recognizing books that are truly good and beautiful, and why it’s important. 

I share my daughter’s story in another blog/video that can be found here, and how I started to see firsthand the behavior today’s books are promoting and what I did to address those concerns. 

As a parent, you truly can change your children’s lives by blessing them with good and beautiful books, helping them climb higher through the best literature available. Fill their lives with books that bring them to places, people, and language that leaves them strong and immovable in their faith. 

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