World Book Day: Let’s get children reading
Yesterday marked World Book Day, a celebration of all things literary.
The aim of it is to encourage young children to get reading, providing opportunities by sending out book tokens to schools across the UK. Thousands of children will receive a £1 discount of a selection of eight books, including Big Day Out by Jacqueline Wilson.
For this, I’d like to thank the award-winning author herself.
At the age of about 12, I started up a book review club with a couple of friends (literally a couple; there were three of us in the entire secondary school.) As a fan of Jacqueline Wilson’s children’s books, I’d started reading her Girls In Love series, which appealed to young teens about the perils of being a teenager.
Jacqueline achieved greater recognition in 2001, after her book The Story of Tracy Beaker, (which follows a young girl growing up in a care home where she has been placed after neglect from her mother), was turned into a television series.
Tackling topics such as adoption, depression, social class, domestic abuse and divorce, Jacqueline has gained critical acclaim for introducing young readers to adult topics with the adept level of tact and sensitivity, without dodging the harsh realities of life.
Having sold more than 25 million books in the UK it’s no surprise Jacqueline was awarded the OBE for services to literacy in schools in 2002 and was the Children’s Laureate from 2005 to 2007.
After reading aloud my review of Girls in Love during an assembly at school, I wrote to Jacqueline Wilson (the first and only time I ever contacted a “celebrity”) to tell her how much I admired her work, enclosing a copy of my review.
My friends still find it amusing that firstly, I did this, and secondly, how thrilled I was when she responded. I received a hand-written letter with small illustrations, thanking me for sending the review and encouraging my writing. In awe, I wrote back thanking her for the letter, again elated when I received another response.
Jacqueline’s success has never been restricted to sales, she’s promoted reading throughout her career – even studying for an ‘A’ level in English at the age of 40.
Although we have a high adult literacy rate in the UK which has been improving over the last few years (in a BIS survey, 57% of respondents achieved a Level 2 or above score in literacy, a large increase from 44% in 2003. This is equivalent to a C or above grade in GCSE), there is still a long way to go until school leavers reach the anticipated levels.
Last year, research by Centre for Cities found a strong link between poor results in English and maths and youth unemployment – which is at an all-time low. They noted that between 2007 and 2010, an average of almost 50% of pupils in cities left education without a GCSE grade A* to C in English, and these were the areas with higher unemployment rates.
Although literacy levels are indeed rising, at the end of last year, The National Literacy Trust carried out a survey that revealed one in three children aged 11-16 do not own a book.
With worrying statistics like these, Jacqueline wrote yesterday in The Sun about the importance of reading to children from an early age and encouraging them to find a style which they enjoy, praising such recognition days for getting children into bookshops.
The younger children can find a genre or author that appeals, the earlier they’ll begin to appreciate that reading and learning doesn’t have to be a chore.
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