Children’s laureates call on prime minister for national investment in early years reading 

Kathy Oxtoby
Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The president of BookTrust, along with every children’s laureate for the past 25 years, have called on the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to commit to a long-term investment in books and reading for young children.

images © BookTrust

President of BookTrust, former Waterstones children’s laureate and author, Sir Michael Morpurgo, together with the current children’s laureate, Joseph Coelho, and every children’s laureate from the past 25 years, have called on the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to commit to a long-term investment in books and reading for children under seven.  

In an open letter published today (17 January 2024) they ask Rishi Sunak’s government and Sir Keir Starmer to commit to helping every low-income family become a family which reads together because ‘it is not right that children from poorer backgrounds are deprived of a life that is rich in reading’, said Sir Michael.  

Compelling evidence for benefits of reading to children early on 

The authors and illustrators - who represent some of Britain's best-loved creators of books for children - highlight evidence for the wide-ranging benefits given to children who are read to early on, citing a profound impact on educational success, language development, mental well-being and relationships. 

Children who read are more likely to overcome disadvantage – but statistics suggest that little family reading is actually happening.   

Despite 95 per cent of parents with children under seven knowing how crucial reading is, new statistics from BookTrust show that one in five children aged 0-4 have a book read to them less than once a month. 

These findings underscore further BookTrust research, which indicates that less than half of children are read a bedtime story, and only half of children aged between one and two from low-income families are read to daily.

With an increasing number of children in the UK living in poverty due to the cost-of-living crisis, the laureates are calling for comprehensive support for low-income families, explaining that without a national approach more and more children will miss out.    

‘Urgent call for national investment in early years reading 

Cressida Cowell, internationally bestselling author-illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon series, said: ‘A child who is read to has a much better start in life than a child who is not. That’s not fair because all children should have the same chances, the same opportunities, no matter what their circumstances. Together we can help make this happen, but it must be something that government invests in – which is why all the laureates have come together to support this urgent call for national investment in early years reading.’  

Writing as the president of BookTrust, Michael Morpurgo’s letter comes as the UK’s largest children’s reading charity launches its “Reading Together” campaign, outlining what needs to be done to support families to become regular reading families in the early stages of a child's life. 

“Reading Together”: BookTrust’s new initiative 

Sir Michael Morpurgo, said: ‘”Reading Together”, BookTrust’s inspired new and timely initiative, will aim to ensure that millions more of our children have the sure start they need to discover early the enjoyment of reading, and so have the opportunity to hear and read stories and poems, that is their right.’ 

“Reading Together” is informed by the charity’s decades of experience of working with millions of families and thousands of local partners, including health visitors, nurseries, schools, libraries and food banks. Within the “Reading Together” paper, BookTrust outlines four proposals intended to prompt a national debate about how the UK can lay down foundations for a child’s start in life and establish a comprehensive programme for under seven’s reading.  

The proposals aim to embed reading in the life of every low-income family by providing books, resources and reading experiences, and provide sustained support, books and resources to help vulnerable children and families who can benefit most from the special characteristics of reading together  

They also aim to help midwives, health visitors, librarians, family support workers and early years teachers promote family reading, and primary teachers become even more powerful advocates for reading for pleasure.  

Diana Gerald, chief executive at BookTrust, said: ‘Children who missed out on critical development opportunities during the pandemic have fallen behind in terms of language development, literacy and communication skills. Their social and emotional well-being has been affected. There is significant risk their attainment at school and their long-term life chances will suffer. 

‘We know that reading can help address these issues, and we want our “Reading Together” campaign to start the conversation around how we can transform children’s lives because there has never been a more urgent time for us to inspire a new generation of children on their reading journeys.’ 

  • For further details on ‘Reading Together’ visit: booktrust.org.uk/readingtogether.  

The children’s laureates open letter to Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer  

‘For our children and for us, reading is the great pathway to knowledge and understanding and empathy. We know it to be deeply enriching and fulfilling. This path can take us on a lifelong journey, as new horizons, new possibilities and new notions open up before us. Books are the good companions who help us on our way, that open eyes and hearts and minds, that help us through good times and bad, help us understand ourselves and others, and the world about us. They provoke, and challenge and excite and comfort us.   

‘But we also know that sadly in this country there are still millions of young children who never have the opportunity of finding this pathway. We know, that the earlier we develop the joy and fun of reading in our children, the more likely it is that they will reap the rewards of the fulfilling education they all deserve.   

‘And we know that those children who come from disadvantaged homes are the most likely never to discover the joys and benefits of being readers, of loving books, of fulfilling their aspirations in life, of developing their talents. These are also the most likely children to be suffering from mental health issues, from lack of self-worth and from family problems at home. These are the very children who most need to find the pathway to fulfilment and achievement that books can bring.   

‘We are the storytellers, the parents, the families, the teachers, the librarians, the publishers and booksellers, the society, who can help make this happen, at home, at school, in the library, in the hospital, wherever. We can help transform the lives of children everywhere. But we need the Government to lead the way.    

‘So, I am writing to the Government to ask for their commitment in helping all families – whatever their circumstances or challenges – become a reading family.   

‘Let’s do it. Let’s do it for our children.’ 

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