Still So Much To Be Gained
Despite yesterday’s miserable weather, World Book Day at Highfield and Brookham, with all its colour, energy and imagination, lifted spirits like a warm Summer breeze. The ingenuity and creativity of children (parents!) and colleagues was everywhere to be seen as we were treated to characters from traditional tales, Mr Men in abundance, characters from Roald Dahl, a ‘Hogwarts’ of Harry Potters and Hermione Grangers, more than one Boy in a Dress, Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs, Mad Hatter’s and many, many others who took part in the traditional costume parade through the Chapel at Highfield and brought even greater colour to the classrooms at Brookham.
It might be a surprise to learn that the origins of World Book Day can be found in Catalonia as far back as 1923, starting life as a Catalonian tradition of giving books away to friends and family in honour of the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes of Don Quixote fame. However, it wasn’t until 1995 that the day now celebrated the world over was first established by UNESCO, and the World Book Day as we now experience it in the UK was launched in 1998 by then-Prime minister Tony Blair, to address fears and concerns over poor reading and writing standards. Its sole focus was creating readers for the future by igniting a love of books and reading in children and young people.
Interviewed recently, the architect and founder of World Book Day UK, Baroness Gail Rebuck, explained:
In 1997 the level of children’s engagement with reading was at a point of national crisis. The previous year a Government report had been released showing that 42% of 11-year-olds failed to achieve level 4 in reading and writing on entry to secondary school. We wanted to do something to reposition reading and our message is the same today as it was then – that reading is fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives. I’ve seen first-hand how World Book Day has affected social change and long may it continue.
Happily, the majority of UK schools, Highfield and Brookham being no exception, now see the event as a key part of their educational calendar and offer a huge range of activities for children including reading games, practical events and most importantly, fancy dress. Dressing up has completely revolutionised World Book Day, providing a wonderful opportunity for parents to talk with their children about their literary heroes, old and new. All these activities bring stories and characters to life and give children a chance to really immerse themselves in literature in a unique way, encouraging an enthusiasm for reading.
The great children’s author, Roald Dahl, understood only too well the importance of children reading and being read to:
I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a great advantage. He especially celebrated reading’s glories in his character Matilda, a girl who transcended her neglectful and philistine upbringing through reading when he wrote of her: The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.
The benefits of reading are known to us all and World Book Day has over the past twenty two years seemingly done much to raise the profile of reading, and yet research suggests that the lessons of its benefits are again being lost to us.
Last year’s Nielsen Book Research’s annual Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer survey into the reading habits of British children showed that only 32% of British children under 13 are read to daily by an adult, for pleasure, down four percentage points on the previous year, and nine percentage points down on 2012. Most parents stop reading to their child by the age of eight, with just 19% of eight to 10-year-olds read to daily by an adult, across all socio-economic groups, down 3% on last year. Boys were less likely to be read to daily than girls at 14%, compared with 24%.
A second major survey of 27,000 children and young people, carried out by the National Literacy Trust last year, found that the number of eight to 18-year-olds reading for pleasure has now dropped to 52.5%, from 58.8% in 2016, with only a quarter (25.7%) reading daily, compared with 43% in 2015. The majority of boys and over half of girls in every age group said they preferred screen time to reading. It highlighted a strong correlation between older children being read to, and children choosing to read independently for pleasure; 74% of eight to 13-year-olds who were read to each day also read independently, compared with just 29% of those who were read to less than once a week.
Experts say reading aloud to children, free from accompanying work or exercises, is key to fostering reading for pleasure. A 2018 National Literacy Trust study found that children who enjoyed reading were significantly less likely to have mental health problems, while the Centre for Longitudinal Studies found in 2013 that reading for pleasure has a four times greater impact on academic success than one parent having a degree.
Former children’s laureate and War Horse author Michael Morpurgo echoed Roald Dahl when interviewed recently:
It is vital that children, young people and all of us have access to stories which give us the knowledge, empathy and understanding we need to negotiate life. But just as importantly, we need to give children and their teachers and parents time to read.
Kirsten Grant, who stepped down as director of World Book Day after almost ten years at the helm in April, issued a rallying cry on last year’s World Book Day I believe we would be wise to follow:
Whether your children are dressed up today or not, sit down with them for 10 minutes today, and every day – and share a story. We all know how important it is to our children’s health to give them their ‘five a day’. It’s just as important for their wellbeing to read with them for 10 a day.
It would appear that even in this digital age there is still so much to be gained from reading a good book other than just enjoying a really good story!