Children’s Books Ireland was delighted to have been chosen as one of three charity partners for the RTÉ Toy Show Appeal with the Community Foundation for Ireland last November. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Irish public, €6.6 million was raised on the night and we are thrilled to receive €302,690 of that to bring us closer to our vision: Every Child A Reader. We would like to sincerely thank the Late Late Toy Show viewers for their generosity, and RTÉ and the Community Foundation for Ireland for selecting us as a charity partner.
Children’s Books Ireland champions every child’s right to discover and develop a love of reading. We know that there are many children who do not have access to books at home, or do not have a culture of reading in the home. There are families where literacy or language issues may prevent a parent or guardian from nurturing a love of reading in a child. We choose to focus not just on promoting reading in families, but also on encouraging a positive culture around reading for enjoyment in schools, and working to overcome barriers that keep children and young people from accessing excellent books which will excite them, spark their imaginations and unlock the myriad benefits and pleasures of reading.
We have been delivering book-gifting schemes for schools since 2014 and through these initiatives we have provided access to books to children and young people all over Ireland. With the funding received from the RTÉ Toy Show Appeal, Children’s Books Ireland will work closely with four primary schools over a period of three years: we want to use this extraordinary opportunity to engage deeply with the students, staff and community of the school, giving them a substantial collection of contemporary books that reflects the diversity and inclusiveness of modern Ireland, and allowing them to participate fully in initiatives which encourage a lifelong love of reading.
Each school will be supported by an artist as a Champion of Reading who will work to develop a culture of reading in the school that will last far beyond the duration of the project. We will add a new member to our core team to increase our capacity and facilitate the rollout of our book-gifting programmes. Robust evaluation will show the impact of the programme and will provide us with invaluable data on this pilot scheme which can then be rolled out more widely, ideally, through government reinstating the school library grant and investing further in programmes like Creative Schools and Writers in Schools.
What will each of the schools receive?
Each of four schools will receive over 1,000 books over a three-year period, a total of 4,400 books during the lifetime of the project. Our book selection will include excellent, varied and contemporary fiction and non-fiction titles that allow students to see themselves reflected as well as giving them a window into others’ lives. The students’ needs, interests and opinions will be taken into consideration and we will identify opportunities for the students to participate meaningfully in our planning, decision-making and the ongoing running of the library, book clubs and other reading initiatives.
There is strong international evidence that school libraries contribute positively to the learning experience and wellbeing of children and young adults. School libraries also provide a safe space where pupils can explore their own identities and interests through reading. Especially at times when our movements are restricted, libraries are gateways through which children and young adults can explore the world – to understand and respect diversities in the human and the natural worlds and to encounter people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, characteristics and personalities.
2. Champion of Reading
An author or illustrator will be matched with each school as their Champion of Reading. The artist will engage with the whole school to build a buzz around reading and implement a sustainable programme which will embed a culture of reading in the school. Having a visit from a writer or illustrator can bring a new energy to conversations about reading, writing and illustration in schools. It brings excitement and fun, and firmly separates reading for literacy and reading for the love of it. Having an ongoing relationship over a sustained period of time allows for progress to be built on incrementally – to build trust with reluctant readers, to encourage and inspire those who already read and feed their creativity, to learn about the school and its needs, its community. All of this combines to give students, staff and artists a really rich and rewarding experience that is centred on reading.
Research from the National Literacy Trust (UK) showed that pupils who had an author visit:
– Were twice as likely to read above the expected level for their age (31% vs 17%)
– Were more likely to enjoy reading (68% vs 47%) and writing (44% vs 32%)
– Were more likely to be highly confident in their reading (37% vs 25%) and writing (22% vs 17%)
However, they also found that only 1 in 4 pupils had an author visit in 2019, and those from the poorest backgrounds were most likely to miss out.
Our own research based on our most recent Champions of Reading (part of our Robert Dunbar Memorial Libraries programme) showed that:
– 91% reported that the visit made them want to read more
– 82% reported that the visit made them more interested in reading books from their school/class library
A report published by Business to Arts, Shining a Light on Artist Residence (AR) Programmes, highlighted the benefits of Artist Residence programmes like the Champions of Reading. For the students, working with an artist was confidence-building, empowering, provided a positive intellectual challenge, encouraged creative energy and experimentation among other things.
3. Resources and trainingChildren’s Books Ireland will provide teaching staff with the resources they need to become informed about children’s books and motivate them to engage with books and reading in fresh, creative ways. These will include the Small Print resource pack, the Mind Yourself mental health and wellbeing reading guide and resource pack, themed reading lists, dedicated guides to encouraging a reading culture in school and setting up a school library, and more.
Why primary schools?
The Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal study informs the work we have to do at each age and stage of a child’s life: Reading frequency at three years of age proved to be highly predictive of reading habits two years later, and this predictive pattern extends throughout childhood: reading for pleasure at the age of seventeen is strongly associated with patterns at nine and thirteen years of age. Upper primary school, between the ages of nine and thirteen, is where research shows a marked drop in reading for pleasure. We want to ensure that the children who attend our selected primary schools get a solid grounding ahead of making the important transition to secondary education, so that reading becomes deeply embedded in their lives.
How will the schools be selected?
Children’s Books Ireland recently received almost 400 applications from schools all over Ireland who are in need of support, approximately 75% of these came from primary schools. The applications show a stark need for quality, contemporary reading materials – teachers described empty shelves, purchasing books out of their own pockets and scouring charity shops. The impact of COVID–19; has led to a reduction in lending of the books schools do have, the inability to let the children browse or share books, a curtailment of many of the fun activities around books and reading, stopping reading programmes that involved parents/guardians, grandparents or other adults encouraging reading in the home and the additional demand for more books for children at home for long periods. There are far more worthy applicants than we can possibly support and who would benefit enormously from a sustained intervention. From the approximately 300 primary schools that applied, Children’s Books Ireland will shortlist and interview applicants before making the final selection of 4 schools, ensuring a geographic spread.
What do we hope to achieve?
The ultimate impact we want to achieve from this project is that we will inspire and enable more children to become readers for life. By giving children a joyful experience with books and reading and overcoming barriers to accessing excellent books, we can create long-lasting positive associations with reading, which for many children may be breaking a cycle of family literacy challenges. There will also be an impact on the teachers and the school culture – increased teacher knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm, as well as the physical access to a broad range of books which can feed into their teaching in a variety of ways. The visibility of reading as a positive and accessible activity will be made clearer to families through targeted communications from the school and invitations to participate in events.
Our focus on advocacy aims to showcase the impact of this project as evidence of the change that is possible when a school has a library. This will help us to make an evidence-based appeal for the reinstatement of the school library grant by the Department of Education as a necessary and basic support not just for the language and literacy curriculum, but for children’s creative and imaginative lives. This would be the most significant outcome of this project and a hugely significant development for children’s rights in Ireland, supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically Article 31, which includes the right to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and encourages the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.
Children’s Books Ireland would like to sincerely thank the Late Late Toy Show viewers, RTÉ and The Community Foundation for Ireland for making all of this possible.