• Katy Rigg

The Power of Books

When I was about 8 or 9, I confessed a secret to my diary. I remember it vividly, shutting the book almost before my pen had left the paper, almost too ashamed to see the words written down.

“I’m really worried,” I wrote. “I think I’m obsessed… with the Babysitters Club Books.”

No joke.

THAT was my big secret. Juicy or what?

But the obsession was real. I couldn’t get enough of those books, and every time we went to the supermarket, where the whole collection lined the shelves, I disappeared off to the book aisle whilst my parents stocked up on beige food for the freezer (it was the 90s after all). I ran my hands over the covers and looked dreamily at the characters on the front and skim-read the first few pages to decide which book I wanted to read next. Once I’d decided, I’d think of a way to convince my parents that I needed another book, and hope they’d let me take a new one home. They must have almost always said yes because I read them all and knew the series inside out by the time I’d left primary school.

I LOVED those books. I loved all the characters. I loved the adventures they had and the friendships they built and I admired their savvy business acumen. I wanted to live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut where the sun always shone and people lived in huge houses and played baseball and wore their own clothes to school. Those books transported me to another world, a million miles away from Portsmouth where I grew up.

I owe a lot to the author, Ann M Martin, for writing these books and sparking a love of reading at such a young age. My love of books has never waned since. I am lucky to have had parents who nurtured this ‘obsession’ and teachers who helped me to read and write.

Not all children experience this. I recently learnt these facts about children’s literacy in the UK*:

More than 380,000 children in the UK don’t own a book of their own.

Children who say they have a book of their own are six times more likely to read above the level expected for their age than their peers who don’t own a book.

Children who enjoy reading and writing (and this undoubtedly comes when children find it easy) are happier with their lives.

Children born into communities with the most serious literacy challenges have some of the lowest life expectancies in England (a boy born in Stockton Town has a life expectancy 26 years lower than a boy born in Oxford).

This means that children who don’t own their own books are less likely to be happy in life and are more likely to have shorter lives than their more privileged peers.

There might not be as much dressing up for this World Book Day seeing as most children are at home, but there’s a rather lovely way you might still be able to celebrate. If your children are fortunate to have many books, more than they need or ones that they no longer need, why not ask them to choose some to donate to a food bank, a baby bank, a charity shop or a children’s centre who can often distribute books to children in need? (you may have to contact them first to see if this is something they’re able to do).

Imagine being an eight year old child and holding a book of your own for the very first time.

Imagine the spark this might ignite.

Imagine the joy and possibilities this could bring.

Happy World Book Day, book lovers.

[*Statistics from the National Literacy Trust Website]

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