Diana Gerald on the impact of our book gifting programmes

Published on: 13 May 2015 Author: Diana Gerald

It's always really nice when you discover that other people want to emulate what you're doing. Which is why I was so delighted that Nina Frid, Literature and Reading Promotion Officer at the Swedish Arts Council was here last week to discover how we deliver our book gifting programmes.

Diana Gerald

In fact, book gifting programmes are being introduced by governments across Europe because the evidence shows so clearly that it works. But before we all cheer, it's worth unpicking the other reason that so many countries are developing their own versions of our Bookstart programmes. In short, it is because literacy levels across Europe are poor, with one in five lacking the literacy skills to function successfully in society, and many countries are not meeting their targets for significant improvement by 2020.

The shock of these literacy levels across Europe led last year to the EU Commission, supported by the powerful advocacy of a Dutch Princess no less, founding the 'European Literacy Policy Network' (ELINET), to make policy recommendations that the EU Commission can then make to EU governments. The network has 80 organisations across almost all European countries, and Book Trust leads two of the ten strands of this project.

The truth is that reading for pleasure has a huge impact on children's life outcomes, which is why governments are realising that they need to act - and fast. We've been arguing for years that early intervention is key - our Bookstart books and supporting materials reach families of babies who are anywhere from six-months-old.

We know that if parents start reading with their babies at this age, not only are their children more likely to read for pleasure themselves when they grow older, but also that the very act of reading aloud to young babies can have a positive impact on brain development. If we miss this opportunity, we risk getting to children too late, when other habits including television and computer games have already taken hold.

It's why Nina was here to learn more about what we do. It's why we have 34 affiliates around the world, including 17 in Europe. It's why, even during an international economic downturn, more and more countries are developing book gifting programmes based on the Book Trust Bookstart model.

So yes, it's very nice that Sweden might soon be a new affiliate. But what will be nicer is when literacy levels start moving in the opposite direction and 'read every day' becomes the mantra of the many, and not the few.

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