Books can offer an escape to another world and ignite the imagination. One person who understands the importance of reading for young children is researcher Liberty Venn, who set up the London Children’s Book Project to help more children get reading…
The initiative collects gently used children’s books for all ages and redistributes them free-of-charge to children who do not have the means to buy for themselves. And for west London resident Venn, the most crucial part of her project is that the books are given to these children rather than simply loaned.
‘I know school libraries are important, but many school libraries no longer have a school librarian, so without the librarian it can be difficult to reach those children who aren’t already reading, they just don’t come in and use the library at lunch times,’ she tells me.
‘They might come in with their class and that becomes a learning thing. ‘It’s all valuable [but] I’ve got a slightly different ambition to give children a chance to have a book which they can turn the corners over. Have a book they can lose and find again, and lose and find again.’
Founded in May 2017, Venn and her team have already received and distributed around about 14,000 books and she’s expecting to distribute 25,000 by the end of the academic year.
Venn knows the importance of her project, given that in the National Literacy Trust’s 2016 ‘Read On, Get On’ survey, it was estimated that one in four London children have fewer than 10 books of their own.
The books are mostly donated to Venn, who lives near Notting Hill, from book-buying families in west London independent schools, which her volunteers sort by age and reading-level groups.
The children and teachers of these schools have also come up with increasingly creative ways to distribute them with one school inviting the children to write a review of the book before they donate it.
‘It was just fantastic reading these kids’ reasons why they think another child would love their book,’ she enthuses. ‘And that’s very much what my project is about – supporting readers, as well as those children who don’t have books.’
She loves to encourage local schools to make donating books fun for children, with many running book drives, where when the kids drop their books off they get a sticker and a volunteer talks to them about the book. These are so successful that from one school Venn recently picked up 2,100 books in just one morning collection.
Book-buying families often feel very strongly that when their children have grown out of their books, well let’s pass them on so somebody else can benefit
‘Book-buying families often feel very strongly that when their children have grown out of their books, well let’s pass them on so somebody else can benefit.’
Just as they use creative methods to donate the books, Venn also encourages innovative ways to gift the books to make sure that the children who need them are taking them. These range from schools creating pop-up bookshops to having free library boxes, which sit in the playground with no rules other than the children can chose any book they like to take home.
She mostly works with schools that have an above-average number of children on free school meals and pupil premium to make sure that the books are going to those who need them.
‘If there’s a good access to a regular supply of books when you’re younger then reading is something you want to do because it’s suddenly no longer a finger under each word, stumbling through a sentence, trying make it make sense, but suddenly something much more fluent,’ she says.
‘Suddenly reading becomes pleasurable. You go from learning to read to reading to learn. The reading is then what gives you access to new worlds.
‘That then changes your aspirations,’ Venn finishes, ‘it changes your sense of who you are in the world, and it gives you a whole new vocabulary to imagine with.’