Did you have a favourite book as a child? My first favourite book I can remember was Dear Zoo. Now, whenever friends or family have a baby, I always buy the baby a copy (unless I’d already given their first baby a copy!).
Book ownership for children is really important. The National Literacy Trust released their latest annual report on children’s reading habits and access to reading material in August last year, using data from 8,210 5–8 year-olds and an additional 2,130 8-year-olds. The report makes for compelling reading. I’ve included some of the statistics and findings below, but for those interested I highly recommend reading the full report as well.
- While around 4 in 5 children own a book, this means that around 1 in 5 do not own a single book of their own. The reason is often (but not always) poverty.
- 78% of the children who own a book at home enjoy reading, compared to 66% of children who do not own a book. Overall, 75% of children enjoy reading either ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’, whereas just 5% don’t enjoy reading at all.
- 8% of children say they never read at all, and just 52% of children read every day.
- 92% said that there are lots of things they want to read, and 88% of children said they would be happy to receive a book as a gift.
- Of those children with a book at home, 81% rate themselves as good at reading, compared to 70% of children who do not own one. Children who own a book are six times more likely to read above the level expected of them for their age.
- In terms of mental health, 64% of the children said that reading helps them relax, and 64% that it makes them feel happy. 46% said that it makes them feel better when they are sad, and nearly a third (36%) said it helps them deal with their problems.
The statistics show that as well as being influential on reading ability, book ownership is also important for children’s reading confidence and enjoyment, and crucially, for their mental health. It also shows they want to read. Books are powerful!
The Children’s Book Project is a charity who collect pre-loved children’s books, clean and check them over, and (if they’re in good enough condition) redistribute them to children who need them. They do this through schools, food banks, community groups and prisons. They understand the power of books and get them into the hands of children who need them most in a compassionate and thoughtful way, and I found this inspiring. The work they do relates well to the business of the Open University (education) and to my role in Student Welfare and Support at the Students Association. So in the run-up to International Book Giving Day (on 14 February) I decided to start a collection for the charity.
On campus in Milton Keynes, a collection box was placed in the Students Association’s office for Association staff. Additionally, the Go Green Centre enthusiastically offered to take a collection box for wider OU staff on campus (as well as a charitable initiative, the project is also a green initiative, with reuse being the second rung in the waste hierarchy). The collections were publicised in a number of ways to raise awareness, including in the Go Green and Sustainability newsletters. The Association’s elected Student Leadership Team (SLT) were also invited to bring children’s books to their quarterly meeting in Milton Keynes, which I took away and added to the collection on campus.
The engagement has been brilliant, touching and inspiring. There have been books quietly dropped off by people I haven’t met, while I’ve also enjoyed others telling me nice stories about the favourite books of their now older children that they were happy to pass on for others to enjoy. We’ve also had some brand new books donated too. At home, I found that the collection was a brilliant thing to talk about with my 3-year-old. The concept of sharing is well known to him (perhaps not always willingly demonstrating it, but with encouragement he gets there!) and so it was simply another step to help him understand that some children don’t have books like he does, and so he could perhaps find one or two of his that he could give away to them. He asked some really good questions and happily went off to his room and brought some books back to me.
We have had a great response, so far collecting 523 books, with more on the way. Excitingly, the Go Green Centre have agreed to trial a permanent book collection box to go with the many other boxes of difficult-to-recycle materials that they collect. While children’s books will continue to be taken to a Children’s Book Project collection point, we are also looking at extending the collection to non-children’s books as well, which will be taken to other charity shops to be sold for reuse, helping to fund good causes.
Want to get involved?
This isn’t confined to those on campus in Milton Keynes. If you have children’s books that aren’t tatty but may have been lightly used (or even if you’d like to donate new books!) then you can find your nearest drop-off point here by typing in your postcode. There are of course many other charity shops who would also gladly take books from you, and while you’re there you may find a book you want to buy for yourself. As well as helping a charity and encouraging reuse, you may also free up some space on your book shelves.
Thank you to everyone who brought in a book (or many), and thank you to Jodi Houghton and Lucy Gilbert at the Open University and Go Green Centre.