Tuesday, 14 February was International Book Giving Day, and to recognise it we collected books for the Children’s Book Project. This charity redistributes books to children who need them, for example through food banks and prisons.
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 2022, based on data from over 10,000 children. It makes for compelling reading, including that:
- Around one in five 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.
- 8% say they never read at all, and just 52% read every day. 75% enjoy reading whereas just 5% don’t at all.
- 92% said that there are lots of things they want to read.
- 81% of children with a book at home 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% said that it makes them feel happy. 46% said that it makes them feel better when they are sad, and 36% said it helps them to deal with their problems.
The statistics show that as well as being influential on reading ability, book ownership is also important for 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 collect pre-loved children’s books, clean and check them, and if in good enough condition redistribute them to children who need them. They understand the power of books and get them into the hands of children who need them most in a compassionate, thoughtful and inspiring way. The work they do relates well to the business of the OU (i.e. education), so in the run up to International Book Giving Day, I decided to start a collection for the charity.
On campus in Milton Keynes, collection boxes were placed in different places and publicised, to maximise engagement. As reuse is the second rung in the waste hierarchy, the Go Green Centre, who advise on all things environmental, also agreed to host a collection box. The Association’s elected Student Leadership Team (SLT) were also invited to contribute children’s books at their quarterly meeting in Milton Keynes.
The engagement has been brilliant, touching and inspiring. There have been books quietly dropped off by people I didn’t meet, while others have shared nice stories about the favourite books of their now older children that they were happy to pass on. We also had some brand new books donated too.
We had a great response, collecting 544 books, and have decided to continue to offer to collect books for the charity on an ongoing trial basis.
Children’s Book Project work in prisons
As well as gifting through schools, community groups and food banks, the Children’s Book Project also facilitates the gifting of books to children through prisons. To get more information, I met online with Kristin Knell, their Head of Corporate Partnerships.
The idea came about by chance during a meeting with Serco, exploring the possibility of their staff contributing some voluntary time to the charity. But the discussion moved on to the possibility of gifting books to the children of inmates in Serco prisons. Kirstin described how supportive Serco have been, donating a retired vehicle that prisoners helped repurpose into a mobile bookshop, now affectionately named Betsy. Piloting at HMP Ashfield, the scheme has now extended to four more prisons with many more in the pipeline, and an ambition to offer the service in all prisons.
Through the scheme, a parent or relative in prison can gift a child up to ten books a year. The charity and prisons facilitate this in three ways, depending on circumstances. For parents whose children are not able to visit them, bookshops are set up inside the prison. Prisoners can come and talk with a volunteer about the child they want to send a book to, such as their interests and how well they currently read. When they've made their selection, they can write a letter to be posted to the child with the book.
Where children are able to visit in person, pop-up bookshops are set up in visiting halls with a sign encouraging children and parents to ‘Have a look, take a book’. The visiting children can take their parent over to browse and discuss the books together, to perhaps sit on Dad’s knee and to read a story together. This bonding time can be invaluable, and about as close to normal family time as is possible in the setting. The child can then take the book home.
Thirdly, a shelf of donated books may be set up in the prison library, where the parent can choose a book to send home to children on other occasions such as birthdays or at Christmas, when the charity will also send in Christmas themed books.
To date, 9,690 books have been gifted through prisons. The charity are working on ways to measure their impacts, but they can already see the value that the gifting program produces. As well as aiding children’s literacy, additional benefits are significant. K tells me that: “When prisoners go inside, their instinctive reaction is to cut themselves off from their family because of feelings of shame or because they think their family will be better off without them, or as a coping mechanism. But actually, we know that the converse is true and that both prisoner and child can have better outcomes if the family connections stay, and with prisoners much less likely to reoffend”. With limited opportunities for this connection to be nurtured while in prison, the books act as a facilitator to keep lines of communication and bonding opportunities open.
Find out more about the Children’s Book Project at: www.childrensbookproject.co.uk
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