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Children who have no books – let’s put this right

I had an incredible pleasure and privilege yesterday. I bought my first grandchild his first book – and read it over a cup of coffee in Waterstones café. The new addition to our family has arrived six weeks early and it’s all very preoccupying but I am so looking forward to reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with him.

Children need books. They need them to love and hold and chew. They need the stories and ideas and images and characters. A baby is never too young to be read a story.

The headline from the National Literacy Trust today is that “More than 380,000 children don’t own a book of their own”.

Owning a book (rather than borrowing from a library, which is the obviously wonderful way for any child to get a book at no cost) isn’t a luxury but necessary for reading expertise. Research from last year showed that “Children who say they have a book of their own are three times more likely to read above the level expected for their age than their peers who don’t own a book (12% vs. 4.2%).

The figures quoted today also, of course, show that the vast majority of children in the UK do own a book of their own. And that’s great, until you think of a few things:

  1. Owning one book isn’t enough – though it’s probably true that most children who own a book own more than one.
  2. It’s very likely that some of the children who own books only own books from when they were younger. This doesn’t say anything about whether they still read and whether they aspire to owning more.The celebrity focused World Book Day list does a disservice to children's literature
  3. Those children who don’t own a book are likely to fall into one or more of these categories:
    • No spare money in the family for book ownership – yes, libraries are free but for many parents/carers with extreme financial struggles the headspace for a library trip may not exist, and some may have a cost of getting to the library
    • Parents/carers who don’t value reading or whose own reading skills are not strong – and these parents are likely not to be using libraries, either
    • Children in the care system
    • Children who don’t like reading and who don’t ask for books as presents
    • Children in any of the above categories who also don’t have grandparents or other relatives who deeply believe that buying a book for a baby, toddler, child, teenager is a great act of love.

All children need books. All children deserve the chance to become lifelong book-lovers, with all the pleasure and profit that brings. I know there are people who don’t read for pleasure and who still have a successful life but reading for pleasure has been reported as more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status (OECD, 2002). See this document for a report into the benefits of reading for pleasure.  But it’s not just success and profit but wellbeing, too. See my resource page here, including work on readaxation – reading for relaxation.

Me and Blackwell’s tree 2013

What can we do?

  • Support the Book Trust scheme to give books to children this Christmas – see here for details
  • If you live in Edinburgh, support the Blackwell’s book tree scheme – see here for details
  • Support via the Literacy Trust by texting £7 or donating online – see here for details
  • JUST ADDED: Support the wonderful scheme from Scottish Book Trust, bringing books to teenage mothers to share with their new babies – see here for details
  • If you know a local nursery or primary school, why not get together with some friends and donate a selection of new books you’ve bought to the school, asking that they give them away to any children who most need them? I think they should be new – or at least look new – because children deserve to feel that the book is theirs alone.

My grandson is very lucky, despite his early arrival. Actually, because of it he has six weeks more of me giving him books!

Give the children you love a book (or three) this Christmas. Or a book token if you don’t know which book they’d like. And do, please, consider supporting one of the three schemes above. These people know how to get books to the children who need and will love them. The messages from recipients are heart-warming.






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