Literacy charity Give A Book are championing an initiative that feeds kids’ bodies and minds. Since 2013, Breakfast Book Clubs have been set up in more than 30 schools in disadvantaged areas where a higher than average number of pupils receive free school meals.
“The schools or other organisations provide the food and we provide the books,” explains Give A Book’s Adeela Khan. “It encourages children who, as well as coming into school hungry, often don’t have books at home or parents who are able to read to them.”
The Breakfast Book Clubs are dealing with a problem caused by multiple factors. School budgets are stretched tighter than ever. It is not a mandatory requirement for schools to have libraries, so many do without. At the same time, these local authorities are likely to have made cuts to or even closed public libraries, further restricting access to books.
And the reason that parents don’t read to their children is often simply because they can’t. “In the schools we work with, some parents struggle with low literacy levels or lack time for reading – they may have more than one job,” Khan says. “We sometimes find a cycle – the parent has not had a good experience at school themselves so they don’t feel confident reading with their children.
“Some schools have introduced a parent reading group to help break down these barriers so they can enjoy books with their child – these can be picture books, comics or graphic novels. Once that barrier is broken parents can be enthusiastic about sharing books with their children.”
Give A Book works with publishers to buy books at a discounted rate – although some donations are used, they try to send new books rather than cast-offs so that children have new books of their own. The charity sends the books to the school along with notepads and stationery. It’s all about giving children who wouldn’t otherwise have much access to books the opportunity to read them, and borrow them to instil a love of reading.
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Give A Book aims to start five new Breakfast Book Clubs per year, while refreshing the stock of those already established.
“We get a lot of good feedback from schools,” Khan continues. “For example, the other day I spoke to a teacher at a school in Tower Hamlets [in East London]. She said there was one little boy who was really unenthusiastic in school, but since he joined the Breakfast Book Club, he comes running to the library each morning. It does have an impact. Studies show that encouraging reading for pleasure enhances learning in all sorts of ways. Children have a lot of curriculum-based reading and learning during school hours so our projects are all about encouraging a love of books and getting them enthusiastic about reading for pleasure.”
There are always more schools asking for assistance than Give A Book can help, and providing libraries and access to books is still impossible for some.
“I wish that things were getting better,” Khan says. “But unfortunately, even though there is this need, there are many other demands on school budgets so books and reading cannot always be a priority.”