A Year of BookTrust: Here's what we got up to in 2021

Published on: 20 December 2021

2021 is almost over. With the new year on the horizon, we’re reflecting on the year gone by - and what a year it's been. Yet in the midst of the pandemic, a time of change and challenge for so many families, we’ve seen some huge progress in our ambition of getting every child reading regularly and by choice.  

So, here’s a roundup of our biggest stories and developments of the year.  

Illustration: Kate AlizadehIllustration: Kate Alizadeh

Reading matters 

Reading matters. Sharing books and stories and reading is important for all children. We want all families to establish a routine of reading together with their babies as early as possible and to continue this throughout childhood as children learn to read independently. 

That’s the ambition we set ourselves earlier this year with the launch of our new strategy, which sets out how we will deliver engaging and impactful reading support to millions of children and their families, with a focus on reaching children and families from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds. 

Starting early helps build longstanding habits   

Working together with families to help establish a routine of reading with their babies, lays the foundation for an ongoing reading habit. Bookstart Baby is our flagship programme and we reached every baby in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this year with the pack, encouraging families to share stories and rhymes with their babies. We continue to champion and make the case for reading with MPs and other policy makers. This year we sent a Bookstart Baby pack to all MPs showcasing the support we offer families in their constituencies with some welcome and encouraging responses.  

From L-R: Education Minister Michelle McIlveen; mum Judith and baby Eric; Chris Eisenstadt, Director of BookTrust Northern Ireland office; student Health Visitor Laura Gallagher. From L-R: NI Education Minister Michelle McIlveen; mum Judith and baby Eric; Chris Eisenstadt, Director of BookTrust Northern Ireland office; student Health Visitor Laura Gallagher. 

Supporting schools  

Reading together with children at home is an important part of school readiness. But the benefits are far more than academic - reading can spark creativity and imagination and support mental health and emotional wellbeing.  

This year, alongside receiving a Time to Read pack for every reception-aged pupil from BookTrust, every primary school in England received a copy of Happy Here, an anthology of Black British writers and illustrators, alongside a range of resources and events to empower teachers to give their students a rich and diverse learning experience. We also held a mass virtual author visit in October with poet Joseph Coelho - with over 1,000 primary schools registering to take part.

For secondary aged children, we offered a diverse range of books through BookBuzz - giving children the opportunity to pick their own book to take home - and as well as the School Library Pack to support school libraries and provide access to new genres and authors.  

Championing libraries 

We want all families with children to make visiting their local public library a regular and long-lasting part of family life. Our Storytime pilot tested new ways to reach disadvantaged families and make their library visits a fun and engaging experience with a range of carefully curated books, activities and resources for children and families to take part in together. Hundreds of families across England have had the chance to take part in the Storytime experience, which we hope has inspired them to return and seek out new books and stories to share together. 

School libraries play an equally vital role. Did you know one in eight primary schools in England doesn’t have a library?

Cressida Cowell, the Waterstones Children’s Laureate set about changing this and we’ve been supporting her Life-changing Libraries project which launched new libraries in six primary schools across the country earlier this year, filled with hundreds of carefully curated new books for children to enjoy, alongside training and mentoring for school staff to help build their school reading culture. 

Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall visiting a school library. Photography by David BebberChildren's Laureate Cressida Cowell and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall visiting a school library. Photography by David Bebber

Books, books and more books 

We can’t encourage children and families to share books and stories together without a fantastic and awe-inspiring selection of children's books ready to appeal to children whatever their age, reading ability or interest. 2021 has been a fantastic year with new authors and illustrators sharing their new stories with us and old favourites creating new books for us all to enjoy.  

With hundreds of new book reviews, themed booklists, the Great Books Guide, the 100 Best Books of the last 100 years and HomeTime (our hub filled with games, draw-alongs and videos), our website continues to be the go-to place for all things children’s reading related.  

Celebrating great authors and illustrators  

This year we’ve had two fabulous writers and illustrators in residence giving us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books. Onjali Q Raúf used her residency to discuss how political issues, poverty and racism can be explored through books whilst Dapo Adeola, our current writer-illustrator in residence, is supporting emerging illustrators and underrepresented voices in children's books.  

Just 8% of children's books author and illustrators published in the UK are people of colour, meaning there remain many underrepresented voices and an industry that is not reflective of UK society. We’re determined to be part of the solution. We held another week of free industry-led workshops, advice clinics and training for authors and illustrators of colour. We also supported creators to visit schools to meet children, introduce them to new role models and inspire them with a diverse range of stories.  

Last month we awarded renowned poet and children's author John Agard our Lifetime Achievement Award for his incredible contribution to children's literature. “Poetry has power” says John, and we couldn’t agree more.  

The Sainsbury’s Book Award winners 2021 captured the attention and imagination of children of all ages and the Blue Peter Book Awards 2022 showcased celebrations of neurodivergence and hilariously illustrated trivia that encouraged different ways of thinking.  

John Agard, winner of the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award 2021"Poetry has power" - John Agard, winner of the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award 2021

Together we can make a difference  

We would not have been able to deliver all our support, resources and books to children and families this year without the support of our delivery partners including local authorities, libraries, schools, early years settings, the publishers and authors we work with and our funders including Arts Council England, Welsh Government and Department for Education, Northern Ireland as well as the trusts, corporate partners and individual donors who support our work.  

But there’s more we want to do. There’s never been a more urgent time for us to inspire a new generation of children on their reading journeys but we need your support to do it.

If you believe in the power of books and reading and have been inspired by our work, please consider becoming a BookTrust Friend or giving a one-off gift towards our Christmas appeal. Together we can make a world of difference.

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