Reading enthusiasts once used to dream about a world where children’s books received imaginative, energetic help from all quarters. In 1999 this dream seems to be coming true, with ground breaking schemes for bringing books and children together announced on an almost daily basis. Nicholas Tucker investigates.
Promoting the value of libraries for children
Launchpad, a library development agency, has just launched ‘Reaching Parents’, a £500,000 ground breaking partnership programme with three companies from the commercial sector designed to support families in developing children’s reading. There are three very different, exciting projects.
Lads and Dads
On May 29, a week after the Cup Final, football clubs and leisure centres will be invaded by librarians promoting two teams of eleven books each, one aimed at dads, the other at their lads. Leaflets, posters and counter-packs will shower on twelve pilot areas from Barnsley to Windsor, urging both sides to make reading part of their lives. Dads will be told about the role they can play in encouraging their sons to read. The lads’ books, all published by Random House who are backing the project, start young with Shirley Hughes’ Alfie’s Alphabet and contain only one football title, Tim Barnett’s Fantastic Football Phenomena. Dads get John King’s Football Factory; other titles include Catch 22 and Silence of the Lambs. Some older lads may want to try these too.
The Big Read
Two days later on May 31 and for a week afterwards, ASDA’s 223 stores are hosting The Big Read, aimed at parents as they shop. Special events will be held in every store, with local librarians running performance and story-telling events as well as advising on the book displays to be drawn from ASDA’s current stock of over one million titles. Story-telling sessions will also be led by ASDA staff, fresh from training sessions in one of twelve regional workshops run by the library service. The aim is to reach all of ASDA’s six million weekly shoppers. If the scheme works, it might not only persist in itself but also encourage other supermarkets to come forward with their own initiatives.
Ford’s Working Parents
Launchpad’s third scheme is to bring librarians into industry, in this case the Ford Dagenham Body Plant. Over six months workers during staggered meal breaks will be able to borrow books from a special area of the shop floor. Backed by The Library Association, The Society of Chief Librarians, and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians, there will be no shortage of expertise on any of these ventures. A grant from The National Year of Reading covers the extra costs.
Will it all work? Could an over-promotion of reading, both here and in government-inspired propaganda elsewhere, prove as great a turn-off as the previous years of public indifference about children’s books? Only the most dedicated Jeremiah would want to start crying woe at this stage, but even so there are some areas of concern. Might there be a tendency to push children’s books mostly covering the younger end of the age-range, so avoiding controversial titles such as Melvin Burgess’s Junk? What about the delicate situation, still hardly admitted in many reading circles, of older children who often seem to prefer outspoken adult works by authors from Irving Welsh to J.G. Ballard? At a time when the very existence of childhood itself is being questioned, in terms of whether many modern children are still happy to live in a cultural ghetto marked out for them by adults, the very concept of a children’s book is no longer as simple as it once might have appeared. For younger children, however, Launchpad can only be good news. Other regular shoppers at ASDA could surely benefit too from this jolly break in routine, whether they have any children or not.
Nicholas Tucker is a lecturer in Psychology at Sussex University.