BookTrust packs for refugee families

Published on: 19 June 2024

BookTrust partners in Cardiff have been working together to support the emotional wellbeing of refugee children arriving in the city with BookTrust book packs and welcoming rhyme time sessions for families.

A partner showing a family a Bookstart pack

Being a City of Sanctuary, Cardiff's community organisations – including its libraries – collaborate closely to help and welcome families escaping war and persecution. 

Margaret Holt, Bookstart Coordinator for Cardiff Libraries, dedicates time to distributing BookTrust's dual language children's books – available in more than 30 languages, and often added into Bookstart Baby and Bookstart Early Years packs, funded by the Welsh government - to families who have arrived in the city as refugees.

"I feel it's important to make a connection with families by having books in their native language, so we've always liaised with the BookTrust team to get them," says Margaret. "I'll check in and hear from my contacts around the city, such as Flying Start, health visitors and community partners who are in need of children's books in lots of different languages (including Pashto, Dari, Ukrainian, Bengali, Arabic)."

"It's lovely to see some of the new BookTrust dual language books on the order form – they're always such lovely attractive picture books."

Dual language books

One of Margaret's community partners is Meryl Hoffer, Play Development Worker at the Welsh Refugee Council (WRC), who runs a regular playgroup for families that arrive in the UK as asylum seekers or refugees.

Meryl says: "When families flee from a country and arrive in Wales, they have got nothing except maybe a bag of clothes between them. There's a limit to how much they can carry. They wouldn't be able to take children's books.

"I feel passionately that children should have access to books from an early age. It normalises things for them.

"A book is such an important part of bedtime. It helps a child to feel calm and settle down. Families often find themselves living in a hotel setting, where they've got no access to outside space, usually no televisions and they haven't got toys. It's not an easy situation."

What the BookTrust packs mean to refugee families

A partner gifting dual language books

"Any time somebody new comes into the play group, the first thing we give them is a Bookstart Baby or Bookstart Early Years pack," says Meryl. "Families are very excited, happy and curious to open the BookTrust packs up. They love the puppets!

"And when we give out the dual language books from BookTrust, it is joyful. Parents' faces light up when they recognise their own language in their children's storybook. It means a great deal."

Having access to reading support at the WRC play group is important for families. "There was one girl, about nine years old, who hadn't long arrived in the country, so she wasn't a confident reader," says Meryl.

"But at a session, we were reading a book together and she was saying some of the words from the books out loud. The book was simple enough for her and she felt safe to do it in the group. Everyone clapped at the end. That was lovely."

Reflecting on her partnership with the Welsh Refugee Council, Margaret says: "Meryl gives me a ring or an email if she needs to source extra BookTrust books in a particular language. I remember when Meryl asked for BookTrust books in Tigrinya. She passed on this picture book to an Eritrean woman in the play group who was feeling very isolated.

"Meryl told me having this book really helped her emotional wellbeing. It gave her something she could hold onto."

Rhyme times: opportunities for connection and signposting

A partner playing guitar during a rhymetime session

Margaret also delivers Bookstart rhyme time sessions, where she leads families through rhymes and songs, playing her guitar and gifting BookTrust packs at the end. She's previously hosted them in Cardiff hotels where refugee families have been living temporarily.

Meryl says: "We saw how positive Margaret's rhyme time sessions for minority groups were. We started to imitate them, running similar sessions with refugee families. Margaret still comes along and does sessions with us - the children swarm around her! We also go and join her sessions in libraries when we can."

This week, Margaret and Meryl are teaming up again to host a Bookstart Rhyme Time for families during Refugee Week.

A child enjoying a parachute during a Rhymetime session

Margaret says: "Rhyme and story time sessions are all about playing with language and are also important for the social aspect for families. By being there, they can meet other people, have a bit of a chat. Meryl's also so good at being this supportive connection and signposting families.

"One of our librarians from Cardiff Central is also coming along to help promote that we have library books and information in people's native languages. There are a lot of exciting things happening in Central Library as part of Refugee Week, such as displays of artwork created by refugees, and the presence of organisations such as The Birth Partner Project. We'd love to use this rhyme time as a chance to encourage families to come along.

Margaret adds: "These sessions always feel very worthwhile, and you feel there's been a connection there. It's lovely to have the support of BookTrust behind us to be able to give free book packs. Families are so very grateful."

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