National Year of Reading
As the 2008 National Year of Reading gets underway, Kelly Apter talks to three women helping Scotland’s kids develop a love of books
Compared to a stick that transforms into a golf club, tennis racket or aeroplane control, the book seems a poor choice of entertainment. But when was the last time a Nintendo Wii helped a child overcome bullying, get through their parents’ divorce or create a world inside their head?
Books can help children make sense of the world, but with so much electrical gratification available, picking one up isn’t always top of their agenda. Which is why events such as Aye Write! in Glasgow and the Scottish Book Trust’s Children’s Festival in Edinburgh have such an important role to play. Alongside an extensive schools programme, the Children’s Festival is holding four public events, including an afternoon with one of the UK’s most successful children’s authors, Julia Donaldson.
Donaldson’s proclivity for rhyming couplets brings pleasure to all ages. ‘I think sharing books is a lovely way to get to know your child,’ she says. ‘Even when they’re very little you can have a good chuckle together or see how they react to sad things.’
On a recent world tour, Donaldson found that children react to her stories in much the same way. ‘People often say to me that their child knows my books off by heart,’ says Donaldson. ‘And somebody told me her son’s first word was “Gruffalo”. It makes me wonder at the power of publishing, that something can be appreciated all over the world.’
Getting up close with an author is a great way to get children interested in books, something The Federation of Children’s Book Groups is passionate about. Founded in 1965 by Anne Wood, the woman behind the Teletubbies, the Federation is a UK-wide network of parents, teachers, authors and anyone interested in children’s books. Teresa Lowe, of the West of Scotland Children’s Book Group in Glasgow, regularly brings authors and readers together. ‘I think it’s very important for children to meet authors,’ says Lowe. ‘They inspire children because often they’ve overcome lots even just to get published, and have led such interesting lives.’
When it comes to buying books, it can be hard to know where to start. A new shop in Edinburgh devoted entirely to children’s books is helping customers branch out. ‘I try to stock books which are a bit more unusual,’ says owner, Vanessa Robertson. ‘People know they can buy Harry Potter cheaper on the internet, but you can’t sit a child in front of Amazon and say “find a book” – whereas they can browse here and find something new.’
Based in Bruntsfield, the Children’s Bookshop stocks everything from bath books to teenage poetry. Robertson is also offering schools the chance to procure free books through an innovative loyalty scheme. ‘It’s so important to get children reading,’ she says. ‘Because if they love books they’ll never be lonely – they’ll always have the ability to find anything out and go anywhere in their head.’
Scottish Book Trust Children’s Festival, Sat 1–Fri 7 Mar; Aye Write! 7–15 Mar. See listings for details. West of Scotland Children’s Book Group, www.fcbg.org.uk; The Children’s Book Shop, 219 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh.