Aotearoa New Zealand is engaged in a much-needed public conversation on children’s reading. Presently the conversation centres on the Ministry of Education’s (2022, March) release of a new strategy for literacy and communication and report from The Education Hub on the perilous state of children’s literacy (Hood & Hughson, 2022). There is a history of debate in Aotearoa New Zealand on the best way to teach reading (Chapman & Tunmer, 2019; McNaughton, 2020), and when people holding different viewpoints interact discussion can become quite heated.Footnote 1 While differences in perspective on literacy instruction and the achievement of school aged children are embedded in the psyche of schools in Aotearoa New Zealand, having researched reading for pleasure for over two years we have noticed that nationally very little attention in public discourse and research is given to children’s reading that is interest-based or for enjoyment (Boyask et al., 2021b). Yet there is a substantial body of international research that highlights benefits to children and societies of reading for pleasure and shows that children’s reading is sustained within a complex of psychological, social, and material relations in which fostering and sustaining interest and engagement through enjoyment is key (Burnett & Merchant, 2018; Cremin et al., 2014; Gutiérrez, 2008). There is also considerable evidence that enjoyment enhances learning, including a study of children in England that showed enjoyment of school at age 6 predicted substantially higher attainment 10 years later (Morris et al., 2021). Many factors that influence educational achievement, such as socioeconomic factors, are outside the sphere of schools. Children’s reading enjoyment, however, is something realistic for schools and teachers to influence.

In the next sections we present a theoretically informed argument for embedding reading enjoyment in schools that has developed alongside a programme of empirical and literature-based research on children’s reading for pleasure. In this article we describe reading enjoyment, outlining its contribution to personal and social life to make a case for its inclusion in school curriculum and pedagogy. International research and policy debates take centre stage because of scant attention in the national sphere to reading enjoyment for school aged children (Boyask et al., 2021b).

Analysing the literature base on children’s reading for pleasure from the perspective of enjoyment rather than reading has led us to think about the field from a psycho-social position (Ivinson, 2020; Simondon, 2016; Studdert & Walkerdine, 2016). We explain pleasure and enjoyment in reading as affective concepts that describe intensities of experience and ways of being with others rather than emotional states that benefit individuals. Reading education that foregrounds sociality and affect aligns with communal identities within Aotearoa New Zealand (Boyask et al., 2021b). It requires awareness of the challenges to unity afforded by the fragmenting effects of some technologies and the potentialities of deeper sociality from others.

On a practical level, the advantages of reading for pleasure may be harnessed within schools if teachers are free to prioritise the pleasure of reading. Finally in the article, we propose schools embed reading enjoyment in their curriculum and pedagogy rather than following the lead of the literacy and numeracy strategy and positioning it as an at home activity. Shared enjoyment is important to reading, and this premise is a reason to differently think about children’s reading in Aotearoa New Zealand schools.

Making a Case for Reading Enjoyment in Schools

In Aotearoa New Zealand there are rich histories that associate children and tamariki’s reading with pleasurable experiences. These include the histories of publishing children’s literature in books, magazines, or The School Journal; equalising access to children’s reading materials through libraries and book programmes (Croft & Dunn, 2002; Goulding et al., 2017); and progressive pedagogies of reading within homes and schools (McNaughton et al., 1992; Mutch, 2013). Perhaps the ubiquitous nature of reading for pleasure in Aotearoa New Zealand meant that researchers took it for granted, and pleasure got left behind as their attention shifted from reading for meaning emerging from children’s interests and experiences (Leckie, 1983) to remedial interventions of Marie Clay (Glynn & McNaughton, 1992) and ultimately to literacy attainment observed through international and national comparative studies (Chamberlain & Essery, 2020; EARU & NZCER, 2015; Medina & McGregor, 2019).

In this article we construct an argument that has developed alongside our programme of research on children’s reading for pleasure (Boyask et al., 2021a, 2021b; Boyask et al., 2022; Harrington et al., 2021) to advocate for placing reading enjoyment at the centre of reading education in Aotearoa New Zealand’s primary and secondary schools. We take this position not to simply oppose other voices in reading debates; we recognise that the literacy and communication strategy for schools also promotes children’s enjoyment of their learning and that there is great satisfaction to be had in many forms of reading or even the acquisition of reading literacy skills. Polarised debates may find agreement through an enjoyment-centred approach to reading. We feel it is crucial to point out that reading enjoyment and associated affective concepts such as self-efficacy and interest are essential for addressing problems of children’s literacy yet have had negligible attention in Aotearoa New Zealand’s reading research literature and school policy. Even though reading enjoyment has many known benefits, it occupies a marginal position in school curriculum (Boyask et al., 2021b). Even now when there is a rebalancing of schooling in recognition of wellbeing and enjoyment, reading for pleasure is associated within the literacy and communication strategy and action plan as an at home rather than school activity. Through building reading enjoyment more firmly into current educational practice in all sectors and at all levels Aotearoa New Zealand could move past this contradiction and take the conversation on reading beyond a polemic.

Reading can be an intensely absorbing activity. Reading is absorbing when the reader is "not distracted easily; they sustain attention through difficulties and focus on making sense of what they read" (Paris & McNaughton, 2010, p. 13). This form of reading is associated with some of the cognitive states of mind associated with higher order thinking including playfulness, creativity, and a state of flow. Playfulness in reading is evident when the activity is the ends rather than the means or reading for its own sake (Kucirkova et al., 2017; Nell, 1988). Reading is a form of play that begins in childhood and can continue into adulthood when more embodied forms of play such as playground games become less accessible (Craft, 2013). Reading is creative when it is an activity directed towards unknown and unpredictable outcomes (Cremin et al., 2014; Kucirkova et al., 2017). A state of flow is attained through reading when the mind is caught up in the activity at hand (Cummings et al., 2018; Paris & McNaughton, 2010). Mentally absorbing reading activities are also associated with non-cognitive states, especially emotional states of pleasure (Cremin et al., 2014), engagement (Garces et al., 2018; Paris & McNaughton, 2010), and enjoyment (Fletcher, 2018).

Reading for pleasure on the surface appears to be a ‘fuzzy concept’ that “is not a concept that includes or excludes any particular kind of textual engagement or reading purpose” (Burnett & Merchant, 2018, p.62). Yet it is adopted often to refer to the pleasure derived from the immersive experience of reading printed fiction. “The ‘thingness’ of books, the embodied experience of reading, and indeed the other people and things associated with reading practices, have received relatively little attention in reading research” (Burnett & Merchant, 2018, p. 63). It is crucially important to understand these broader relationships to equalise development in children’s reading.

The Sociality of Enjoyment in Reading

Despite an emergent thread running through reading studies on the significance of others to the development of and engagement with reading, reading is often characterised as an activity of individuals. Reading for one’s own pleasure features in children’s reading debates in the United Kingdom. England’s educational policy often has influence in Aotearoa New Zealand (Edgington, 2016). Clark and Rumbold’s (2006) report Reading for Pleasure: A research overview written for the United Kingdom’s National Literacy Trust defines reading for pleasure as “…reading that we to [sic] do of our own free will anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading” (p.6). This definition was picked up by England’s Department for Education (DfE) report Research Evidence on Reading for Pleasure: Education Standards Research Team (2012).

A similar definition is unsuitable for our nation. Reading for pleasure defined as a solitary activity and underpinned by a philosophy of personal autonomy and individual freedom is conflictual with communitarianism, a mode of being valued by many cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand including Māori (Matika et al., 2021). Reading

is often characterised as a personal solitary experience conducted in privacy, yet even when readers read alone, the act of reading remains profoundly social. At the core of reading for pleasure is the reader’s volition, their agency and desire to read, their anticipation of the satisfaction gained through the experience and/ or afterwards in interaction with others (Cremin et al., 2014, p. 5).

The “teachers as readers” research reported by Cremin et al. (2014) focuses upon shifting teachers’ identities through engaging them in reading activity so that they might engage the children in their classes similarly. This work was positioned within a “communities of practice” framework (Wenger, 2009) that conceives of reading as practice that is shared between participants. While a community of practice conceptualisation of a community of readers is fundamentally socio-cultural, where the edges of the community are defined through the extent of its shared practice, its message struggles against strongly held perceptions of reading as a solo activity. It also struggles with its own problematic conceptions of “community”. As Fendler (2006) argues, communities of practice occupy the ground of a third way between individualism and collectivism. This third way can be seen within Cremin et al.’s (2014) community of readers where the agentic reader is central to reading for pleasure despite recognising the profoundly social nature of reading. The third way may also be seen in the characterisation of reading as a practice transferred almost mechanically through social relations between individual members of a community of readers, in this case teachers and children.

A more profoundly social way of thinking about reading is based in a communal conception of being, which we describe as sociality. In an article that responds to the problematic nature of “community” in social science, Studdert and Walkerdine (2016) claim the concept may be salvaged when the relations of sociality are recognised as the fundamental essence of reality.

Being with others for us requires more than a group of individuals together and rather a kind of beingness created as more than the sum of its parts, more than simply a collection of people (Studdert & Walkerdine, 2016, p. 617).

In this concept of community all elements of reading including the individuals who read, their reading materials and locations for reading are constructed through relations of sociality, or relationality, that has micro associations (influences close to the site of children’s reading enjoyment such as their relations with significant others) and macro associations (influences such as the social positioning or regulation through policy discourse of children’s reading enjoyment).

Communal concepts of reading can be seen in some research from the United States on communities of readers, although like Cremin et al. (2014) much tends to focus upon micro rather than macro social relations. Relationality is evident in reading when "readers regularly interact around books with other members of their social circle who love to read” (Strommen et al., 2004, p.193). That is, readers will discuss what they read with family members or close friends. This is often with other family members who have a love for reading and may have inspired the younger 'reader' to take up reading. While the proximity of friends and family may assist in the promulgation of reading, an important element is the quality of relations in fostering and sustaining reading. If proximity was enough school would be more successful at teaching reading, yet for many "school is not the critical factor, though a teacher's enthusiasm might be" and all "the readers interviewed clearly connected a love of reading with experiences provided outside of school" (Ibid. p. 197). An even more broadly social perspective is evident in an American study of avid teenage readers; Wilhelm and Smith (2016) identified four different kinds of pleasure from reading, "the pleasure of play, intellectual pleasure, social pleasure, and the pleasure of work, both functional work and psychological inner world" (p. 25). Pleasures are experienced within children’s internal and social world of play and work.

Less commonly studied but also significant when attempting to comprehend the totality of reading enjoyment and its benefits are public and macro-societal associations with children’s reading; readers develop informed opinions that may guide decision-making on issues of social significance, aid the development of empathy or lead to taking responsibility for others or for the environment (Howard, 2011). A report from National Endowment for the Arts (2007) in the United States on the state of reading, makes the argument that readers contribute substantially more to political, cultural, and social life than non-readers. For example, data from the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts indicate that “literary readers are more than twice as likely as non-readers to volunteer or do charity work” (National Endowment for the Arts, 2007, p. 88). Furthermore, “voting activity increases in relation to reading skill level: from 53 and 62% of Below-Basic and Basic readers, respectively, to 84% of Proficient readers” (National Endowment for the Arts, 2007, p. 90). Declining reading within a population therefore is of central importance to government that is dependent upon democratic participation. However, the National Endowment for the Arts report is consistent with more recent and international data to show declines in children and young people’s reading (McNaughton, 2020; Medina & McGregor, 2019).

On a global scale UNESCO’s (2017) report Fostering a culture of reading and writing assembles examples of initiatives that are developing reading and writing literacy within literate rich environments “at home, at work, in the community and in society as a whole” (p. 9) in different national contexts. They argue that literacy develops and motivation for reading naturally occurs when we pay attention not just to developing the literacy of individuals but take a broader view towards developing a literate society. The society in a reading society needs as much critical attention as the community in a community of readers, especially in the light of the effects on societies of technological change.

Affective Sociality Afforded by Technologies of Reading

Digital technologies have undoubtedly changed how people read, with Aotearoa New Zealanders reporting that they now read more online sources than print media (Davidson & Harris, 2019).) “With the advent of digital books and new reading devices, reading for pleasure has not only diversified, but has become more multi-faceted; this is underpinned by reading engagements that may well involve dynamic exchanges, creativity and the co-construction of meaning” (Kucirkova et al., 2017, p. 68). Burnett and Merchant (2018) suggest that technological change begs reframing reading for pleasure so that it includes pleasure or enchantment in the digital engagements that are commonplace in everyday life and disrupting the predominance of the printed word. Affective engagements are embedded in relationality between readers, other people, and things, and as the relations develop new possibilities or potentialities unfold.

Reading is shaped by the affordances offered by technical objects, yet the affordances support different modes of being. Whereas Studdert and Walkerdine’s (2016) community is a mode of being with others, technicity is a mode of existence that impacts ways of being together (Simondon, 2016). Technicity or technical thinking is concerned with a rationality where instrumental relations with the tool or the technical object is what separates human beings from a unified, collective life (Ivinson, 2020). In other words, while technologies offer new forms of relationality, technical thinking and technologies employed instrumentally individuates. Unpicking technicity in reading for pleasure deserves more than these few lines, but for the purpose of this article which is to shine a light on the significance of enjoyment of reading for future policy and practice in Aotearoa New Zealand’s schools an example at its simplest suffices. The relationality of the technical object is seen when a book club emerges around a new book differentiated from the social group who discusses the latest season of Married at First Sight. Or it is evident in the resistance from year 9 students who are taken out of a classroom of their peers for a literacy intervention. In each of these cases the engagements with a technical object (book or literacy intervention) have quite different affective consequences, and therefore quite different qualities to the sociality produced.

Reading engagements are profoundly affective and students’ experiences of affect are important outcomes of reading oftentimes overlooked. An individualising account of affect singularises the emotions of individuals. Others conceive of affect as social and define affective engagements by the intensities or qualities of sociality. Explaining affect,

the way we live it is always entirely embodied, and that is never entirely personal – it’s never all contained in our emotions and conscious thoughts. That’s a way of saying it’s not just about us, in isolation. In affect, we are never alone (Massumi, 2015, p. 6).

The sociality of affective experience can be discerned in social statistics such as those from Read NZ’s commissioned study on reading in a digital age that found that Māori and Pacific readers are more likely to associate reading with “negative emotions (bored, stressed, etc.)” (Davidson & Harris, 2019, p. 16) than Pakeha respondents. The concern for us is that school and school-based approaches to literacy act as individuating technologies that underplay the pleasures of reading together and accentuate differences between readers.

Enjoying Reading at School in Aotearoa New Zealand

School in Aotearoa New Zealand in its recent times has not paid much attention to the potential of enjoyment in its approaches to children’s reading, even though it is the place charged with addressing perceived deficits in reading. Prior to the publication of our own case studies (Boyask et al, 2021a, 2021b; Harrington et al, 2021), we could find very few studies from Aotearoa New Zealand that provide insight on school aged children’s enjoyment of reading in the senses that we have outlined above. The only studies we have found that are explicitly concerned with enjoyment of reading consider how out-of-school reading experiences may be used to enhance literacy development as it is measured within school (Cummings et al., 2018) or examine spaces within schools where reading occurs that are more like out-of-school reading environments such as libraries or summer reading programmes (Gwilliam & Limbrick, 2015). Reading enjoyment seems to be viewed as something that occurs outside of school and especially classrooms. Evidence of enjoyment in reading in classrooms for older children and young people is particularly sparse.

In 2020 the authors were commissioned to undertake a literature review for the National Library of New Zealand on reading for pleasure (Boyask et al., 2021b). To assist in scoping the study we sought the views of a small discussion group comprising three senior students from a local secondary school. Their reflection on their experiences of reading helped us to identify what within an almost exclusively international body of literature on reading for pleasure might have relevance to our national environment.

May: I agree with Lizzie because, like she said, we are only reading for either school or work and most of the people here are practical learners. You can see that a lot of kids now have left school to work.

Daniel: Can I follow up with that real quick, May? Do you think reading is something that’s done only in the school context, or do you think people might leave and go work but still be readers?

Kylie: I feel like it’s compulsory in everyday life. You have to read a text message, or you have to read a sign that says, “Wear a mask in the school.” Reading is compulsory but I don’t think a lot of people do it for enjoyment; it’s just a requirement (group discussion, 2 September 2020, cited in Boyask et al., 2021b, pp.6–7).

This excerpt from the conversation between two university researchers and three school students (May, Kylie, and Lizzie) exemplifies a point made by New Zealand reading researcher Jo Fletcher (2018) when she noticed that missing from interviews about motivation in learning to read with 34 students between the ages of 11 and 13 was any discussion of enjoyment or pleasure in reading. She says, “measuring performance of schooling using assessment measures alone, can encourage teachers and principals to concentrate on teaching reading for positive performance on reading assessment measures rather than encouraging a passion and interest to read for pleasure” (Fletcher, 2018, p.308). The children could identify extrinsic motivators for reading like academic performance or career prospects but did not identify intrinsic rewards like satisfaction or enjoyment. Earlier in this century Paris and McNaughton (2010) stated that “…many researchers have noted paradoxical developmental shifts of decreased intrinsic motivation and increased extrinsic motivation” (p. 13) even though intrinsic motivation is known to be better for sustaining reading. They suggested that pedagogical practices more orientated to extrinsic motivation and performance rewards as children move through school may trigger the decrease. Why then are schools not focused upon building and sustaining children’s intrinsic motivation to read throughout all stages of schooling?

Schools could support intrinsic motivation by fostering reading enjoyment and changing how reading is experienced. The new literacy and communication strategy (Ministry of Education, 2022) has been written in recognition of the power of enjoyment in education, and states towards the beginning of the purpose section learners “enjoying their learning more, will also help children and young people stay engaged in education” (p. 5). Enjoyment in reading is one way to enhance learning and the strategy promotes reading for pleasure as an at home activity through which parents might support their children’s learning. The strategy permits schools to relegate reading enjoyment to home environments, while teachers sustain their focus on functional literacy. In our discussions we noticed that for older students reading for pleasure competes with responsibilities to their communities, both home and school. Reading enjoyment in the literacy and communication strategy will struggle when for some students it is embedded in neither home nor school environments, continuing to advantage students from homes where reading for pleasure is normalised.

May interested us because she spoke to the requirements of being in a community where perhaps reading for one’s own pleasure is not given the same status as other cultural activity.

To me, especially coming from my family, we have a lot of things happening – there’s funerals happening every week. I don’t know whose family it is but if it’s somewhere in our village, always having a funeral every week or a certain celebration and it’s taking up most of our time because Tongan celebrations take up the whole week and it’s very busy and all that. Also, our schoolwork – I just don’t find time to read (May, group discussion, 2 September 2020, cited in Boyask et al., 2021b, p.7).

The interests that May speaks to are not individual interests but the interests of the family and village where she belongs. She is motivated to show dedication to communal rather than individual interests, and in her family, schoolwork is also something to which she should be dedicated. While success at school is valued by May and her family, we can see how experiences that individualise the pleasure of reading might give rise to conflicting emotions and priorities. A goal of enjoyment in reading should be more central to school life and activity, to help assist in establishing the powerful connections the strategy seeks between school and home.

Foregrounding sociality and affect in reading at school requires paying attention to the affordances of socio-material objects within schools, and how they are related to reading. What was apparent through our research on reading within schools was that young people’s reading for pleasure was promulgated through relations between people, as is more commonly reported in studies of reading development, and through relations between objects, less commonly considered (Boyask et al., 2021a; Harrington et al., 2021).

In the narratives from our study of teachers as readers in a group of primary schools it was interesting to see the instances when teachers defined themselves not by their roles but their reading relationships with others (Harrington et al., 2021). That is, when they stepped out of the duty or classroom teacher role to read for pleasure with children. In this respect the project illuminated how schools might engage in the sociality of reading, including understanding of what is realistic for schools and teachers to achieve.

Obviously, in your own school you want the children to be affecting what their brothers and sisters read and what their parents read, and their parents say, “Ooh, I found out about this book from my child,” so they tell their siblings (Deputy Principal, interview 24 September 2020, cited in Harrington et al., 2021).

There were substantial challenges to engagement beyond the classroom in their locality. The school staff reported challenges with parental literacy and education, differences between the print and oral language cultures at school and home, and socio-economic challenges for whānau and families. The response of the project was to build the capacity of the teachers to support reading for pleasure within school, such as by “passive 'duty time' when staff took books out in the playground at break times to read” (School Librarian, interview 6 May 2021, cited in Harrington et al., 2021) or school leaders giving teachers permission to spend time just reading for pleasure with their students. Foremost, in the study the school is framed as a unifying object of reading enjoyment in the face of individuating objects such as family finances, parental literacies, and varied languages.

Sociocritical studies of literacy and language make apparent and resist the binary divisions that pervade education, such as teacher/student, home/school, whole language/phonics, and draw attention to the dynamic of children and young people’s learnings in various contexts and settings in their everyday lives (Gutiérrez, 2008).

Through such embodied cognitive activities and a rich interactional matrix of language practices, learning becomes situated, reciprocal, and distributed, leading to new forms of learning, a reframing of the role of education and of the self as a historical actor, and the development of an important set of tools that facilitates social and cognitive activity. By exploiting the dialectic between the individual and the social, between the world as it is and the world as it could be, we see that institutions of learning can be transformed (Gutiérrez, 2008, pp. 159–160)

Viewing the dynamics of reading through an affect lens goes further to bring into focus diverse ways of being in the world and the potential for change. In our study introducing reading for pleasure into a secondary school we noted relationships between people and things, or objects, related to the students’ reading (Boyask et al., 2021a). The study was prompted by a programme within the school led by the National Library of New Zealand and its partnership with the school literacy coordinator. It coincided with expansion of the school library’s collection of texts and development of the website. These events meshed with a growth in production of graphic novels, proliferation of webcomics and story-sharing apps. Not least to be considered as objects that afford reading relationships are physical or virtual spaces in the school and temporal space within the school’s timetable. Students’ relationships to people and things dramatically increased borrowing of reading materials from the school library. Seen in combination these objects create a landscape in which communal relations to reading establish; however, from a socio-material perspective it is a fragmentary landscape made up of odd fitting and awkwardly shaped objects, which Simondon (2016) calls “the plurality of elements” (p.423). What binds them together is consistency of affect, in this case of pleasure.

Simondon proposed that a life lived just through engagement with a plurality of elements is an unsatisfactory life because it is not a moral life. That is, if students engage with these elements without consideration of the unity or a communal existence and seek only individual pleasure “it lacks what makes it the life of a subject” (p. 424). Considering the lesson of contradiction in values between May’s community and school lives, we can imagine that engagements with a plurality of elements could be attuned by schools to students’ communal life and the pleasures derived from reading together. This requires schools to engage with students and their communities in reading at school as well as outside of school, rather than expecting individual students to conform to their vision of a successful and literate reader inside school by outsourcing the pleasure of reading to outside of school.


Until recently an affective account of reading has been missing from educational discourse and policy. Presently in conversations regarding educational policy there has emerged concern for well-being and recognition of the power of enjoyment for enhancing learning. We support the inclusion of enjoyment in learning referred to in the new literacy and communications strategy (Ministry of Education, 2022). Yet we think that more can be done within school to support children and young people’s enjoyment of reading and make reading for pleasure central to life within classrooms and curriculum.

Now that enjoyment has surfaced in policy as enjoyment in learning and reading for pleasure, it is time to deliberate on how teachers might be encouraged to interpret enjoyment not as the emotion experienced by an individual, but as shared experience that is equitably distributed, valuable, and shaped in diverse ways to the literacy interests of the collective.

Introducing new objects such as the cognitive object of “reading for pleasure” into a school setting creates potential for different forms of reading engagement and ways of being together. When children are at school they can participate in the sociality of reading for pleasure, sharing its enjoyment with other class members and teachers without coming into conflict with the priorities of life outside of school. If schools embed reading enjoyment in their programmes, they might then have greater capacity to follow the literacy and communication strategy and work towards sharing the collective enjoyment of reading with families, whānau, and communities. Foregrounding affect and sociality in future discussions of children and young people’s reading speaks to the potential of teachers being with children and their whānau together reading for pleasure.