Children who read stories aloud with their parents have higher reading and writing ages. In this article, London Children’s Book Project founder Liberty Venn, discusses the magic of storytelling, and how she’s on a mission to bring more books, to more children.
Remember all of the times your child has come to you asking for her favourite book to be read aloud? It might seem tedious, but the delight and pleasure she gains through the familiar words, in the build-up to an inevitable conclusion and in the flamboyant drawings of other worlds, are priceless.
So, when she asks for that book, of course, you pull her into your lap and you read together. She hears your voice, hears the rhyming words and your intonation. And when it’s finished, she’ll want you to read it again and again.
When you read to her again and again (and again) her brain will blaze important neural pathways and she’ll discover letters and sounds and how to read books. Her imagination and vocabulary will explode and she’ll chatter about snowmen and Gruffalos and potions. She’ll develop all kinds of early language skills. She’ll start school role playing characters from her favourite books and will be book curious, asking to look at other children’s books, confident that their contents will hold the delights she’s experienced at home.
“Sadly, not all children have such access to books of their own at home. Incredibly, one in eight London children owns no books at all.”
Equal reading opportunities for all
Many children bring books home from school but do not have the same opportunity to read and re-read them, to identify as strongly with the characters or to lose that book under the bed and rediscover it six months later. The books often set as homework might not be the ones a child would read for pleasure.
Parents place importance on the development of reading skills but have fewer opportunities to read aloud from a picture or chapter book to their child. By age eleven these children on average present a twelve-month language developmental lag behind their peers from ‘book rich’ households.
However, the London Children’s Book Project has identified a significant (and wonderful) trait common to most book buying families: namely a willingness to pass on their children’s old books to other children that have few books of their own.
These parents subscribe to the emotional benefits of shared reading and to the escapism that accompanies immersion in a good book. They don’t need to be persuaded of the academic benefits of reading; for them, books are an integral element of childhood and nostalgia forms a strong part of that association. They welcome the thought that other children without the same opportunities as their own family members, can share the same experiences and associations.
Many London schools permit access to lots of book buying families such as these, and we are lucky enough to receive thousands of wonderful books each month through this route. Donor schools invite children to bring in their old books and use the occasion to invite pupils to highlight their favourite titles, both amongst those they are donating and those that they can’t quite bear to give away.
12,000 books in six months
In the past six months, families at schools such as Broomwood Hall in Clapham, Norland Place, Chepstow School and Notting Hill Prep in North Kensington and Alleyn’s in South London have collectively donated over 12,000 wonderful books, spanning all genres and ages. On each occasion the book drive presents an opportunity for the school to celebrate its own reading community and dynamic.
“Each book the London Children’s Book Project receives is sorted by age and reading stage, and redistributed to schools for children to select from, take home and keep.”
We then match this generosity with the significant appetite for books that exists amongst primary school age children across London, and the creative skills of the staff that teach them. Every book is sorted and organised by age and stage and redistributed to schools for children to select from, take home and keep.
The most compelling gifting mechanics are those that capture children’s imaginations, whether a ‘pop-up bookshop’ or a ‘free little library’ (like a swap shop for books). They are fun, memorable and have a talk-about factor that helps to overcome some children’s reluctance to engage with books and reading (and some parents, too).
The UK publishing industry actively supports our efforts to bring gifting to life and primary schools receive a huge pack of posters, postcards and bookmarks for their children along with a huge injection of books for their children to take home and keep.
How can you become involved?
The Children’s Book Project seeks to engage all reading communities in book sharing and redistribution, and help to address the book gap that exists across London and other major cities.
Have you got any books that you could donate?
Perhaps you are a parent at a school that might run a book collection on our behalf? Or are you aware of a school that might like to receive books?
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org We would love to hear from you so that every child can enjoy the pleasure of having his or her favourite stories read and re-read each night!
Liberty Venn is a researcher and parent of two children living in West London. In the course of her work with literacy-oriented charities and with children’s publishers she became aware of the positive role that early access to books plays in children’s development and in their outcomes. She runs the London Children’s Book Project in her spare time.