About Bookstart

Discover more about BookTrust's flagship book-gifting programme and how it is delivered in your local authority.


What is Bookstart?

Bookstart is the world’s first national bookgifting programme and has been supporting a love of reading and the development of a reading habit from an early age for over 25 years. It puts books and rhymes directly into the home, and encourages families to read together.

What are the aims of the Bookstart programme?

Bookstart aims to promote and encourage families to share books, stories and rhymes as early as possible. It is based on the simple premise that children who have an early introduction to books and are read to every day, benefit educationally, culturally, socially and emotionally.

Book sharing encourages a curiosity about life and an eagerness to learn. The pleasure of reading a variety of books with children draws them towards literacy through the love of stories, songs and rhymes and encourages parents to see themselves as their baby’s most enduring teacher, with the potential to increase their child’s life chances. It also helps to develop a child’s innate ability as a lifelong learner.

A large body of research evidence highlights why reading with children from the earliest ages is of central importance to their development and future life chances.

The Bookstart programme itself has also been positively evaluated on a number of occasions, with a study by Margaret Hines and Greg Brooks in 2009 finding that:

'Receiving the Bookstart pack seemed to have the most pronounced impact among those families who formerly did not often engage in shared reading with their baby or toddler. Bookstart seems to have reminded them of its importance and provided them with the resources to act on this knowledge.' (Hines and Brooks, 2009, p.24)

Find out more by visiting our research pages

How Bookstart works

Free Bookstart resources are provided to every local authority in England and Wales, who then work across public services to meet local needs. By working with key professionals who are trusted by parents and carers, we are able to ensure that high-quality messages are given about the benefits of sharing books, appropriate to the family and their needs.

Bookstart is usually coordinated and administrated by a Bookstart Coordinator in library services, working in partnership with health professionals and early years practitioners in settings including nurseries and children’s centres. Other professionals working with families who need the most support are also involved in targeted delivery of the programme, such as SEN or neonatal units.

Some local authorities administrate the Bookstart programme through their early years or education departments.

The programme is funded by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport via Arts Council England and the devolved government in Wales, with generous support from publishers.

The Bookstart programme is delivered through a multi-agency partnership:

  • Central funding (Arts Council England)
  • Other partners and supporters

The current level of support from the book trade has a retail value of over £5.6 million per annum. All other component parts are also purchased at low cost. This effectively means that every £1 of actual funding for Bookstart delivers approximately £4 worth of retail value. For example, £10 million equates to approximately £40 million value. This figure is further enhanced by the involvement of professional services in the delivery of the programme.

Bookstart has one universal pack, Bookstart Baby, which every child will be gifted before they are 12 months old, usually by their health visitor. Bookstart also offers two further packs, Bookstart Toddler (1-2 year-olds) and Bookstart Pre-schooler (3-4 year-olds), which are gifted by a variety of early years partners to families who need them most. 

Bookstart also has a number of additional needs resources: Bookstart Shine for 0-5 year olds who are deaf, Bookstart Touch for 0-5 year olds who are blind or partially sighted and Bookstart Star for 3-5 year olds who have disabilities that impact on or delay the development of their fine motor skills. Bookstart also offers free dual-language books to compliment the packs - contact your Bookstart Coordinator to find out more.

Bookstart in the UK and abroad

Bookstart in Wales

Bookstart in Wales

Through Bookstart, BookTrust Cymru makes sure that every child in Wales has their own books at home and supports families to read together regularly. Every child in Wales receives two special Bookstart packs which are given to families by health visitors.

Northern Ireland

Bookstart in Northern Ireland

There is currently no government funding for Bookstart in NI, but BookTrust NI is working hard to form alternative partnerships to deliver as many Bookstart packs as possible, along with author tours and annual National Bookstart Week celebrations.

Worldwide affiliates

An inspirational model

Over the past 25 years, the Bookstart model has inspired many national and regional early-years bookgifting programmes across the world. There are now over 30 affiliated schemes in cities, regions and countries from Austria to Australia.