By Kamilla Steinsvag
Our children are our future, and for publishers it is important to create a future of readers. Not only to create a new generation of consumers, but as a part of their social responsibility to help fight against illiteracy. Literacy levels in England are said to be low, which is concerning as low literacy levels have been linked to unemployment and poor health. Research shows that children with good literacy skills perform better in school, not just in languages but also in other subjects such as maths. This article aims to explore in which ways publishers are helping to increase reading engagement amongst children, through supporting different charities and public libraries around the country.
Keywords: reading, children, reading aloud, literacy, publishers, libraries, illiteracy
We are all aware that our children are our future. They are the ones who will lead the world forward when the older generations cease to exist, which means that we want them to have the best foundation possible to be able to do so. One important skill we want to transfer onto our children, is the ability to read.
This year, Scholastic launched its 7th edition of their Kids & Family Reading Report, with a focus on the rise of reading aloud to children. It states that since 2014, the percentage of parents reading aloud to their children during the first three months of their lives is up nearly 50%. Around 30% of the parents surveyed with children under 5 years said that they read aloud to their child before they were three months old, and 73% reported doing so before their child’s first birthday (Scholastic, 2019).
The frequency of a child being read to diminish as the child gets older, and it normally peaks around the age of five. The majority of five-year-olds in the UK are being read aloud to 5-7 days a week, but at age six and beyond the percentage starts to dramatically decrease. This decline is closely mirrored by parents’ view on the importance of reading aloud. The most common cause for this, according to parents, is the fact that their children learn how to read on their own and become independent readers (Scholastic, 2019)
Literacy levels in England
According to the National Literacy Trust (2017), the literacy levels in England are startling low. In 2011, a government study found that 1 in 7 adults in England have literacy skills at or below Entry Level 3, which is equivalent to that of a nine to 11-year-old. Another survey from 2015 reports that 1 in 6 had literacy skills below Level 1, which is the same as ‘very poor literacy skills’ (National Literacy Trust, 2017) It is often connected to people in concentrated areas with a significant deprivation. (Harper Collins Publishers, 2019).
There are many negative side effects to low literacy levels. Unemployment is one of them, and statistics show that people with poor literacy skills earn 12% less than those with good literacy skills. It is also closely linked to poor health and harmful health behaviour, which are factors that can lead to lower life expectancy (Gilbert, Teravainen, Clark and Shaw, 2018).
The importance of reading
This is one reason why reading aloud to children, and reading in general, is so important. There is a deep emotional connection that occurs during read-aloud time, and it is also seen as a highly interactive experience. A parent-child bond is turned into a partnership, where children often get to choose the books they want to read. They are also able to turn the pages and make sound effects, and parents and children are able to create a dialogue about what they are reading (Scholastic, 2019). The emotional connection that occurs encourages more reading, which in turns means more book buying (Egmont Publishing UK, 2017).
Research also shows that children who read for pleasure are more likely to do better at school, not just in languages but also in other subjects such as maths (Booktrust, 2019). It is linked to young children’s emergent literacy ability, which is defined as “the skills or knowledge that children develop before learning the more conventional skills of reading and writing which affect children’s later success in reading” (Duursma, Augustyn and Zuckerman, 2008). Reading is a great way to recognise letters and learn the meaning of new words, which in turn will be a valuable asset for a child’s vocabulary growth. In fact, children’s books contain 50% more rare words than prime-time television, so children are being exposed to a more complex language through reading and have a greater language development compared to children that don’t read (Duursma, Augustyn and Zuckerman, 2008).
According to Booktrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, reading for pleasure has been associated with “writing ability, text comprehension, grammar, breadth of vocabulary, attitudes, self-confidence as a reader, pleasure in reading in later life, general knowledge, a better understanding of other cultures, community participation, a greater insight into human nature and decision-making” (Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Achievement and Behaviour, 2016).
Not being able to read can have an impact on a child’s future. In England, nearly one in three growing up in poverty leaves primary school unable to read well, and research shows that struggling to read is more closely linked to unemployment than in any other developed country (Penguin UK, 2019).Studies also show a link between low literacy skills and crime, where half of the UK’s prisoners have a reading age of an 11 year old or below (Reading Wise, 2014).
What publishers are doing
These are all factors that contribute to publishers working hard to increase reading engagement amongst children. The biggest publisher in the UK, Penguin Random House, says that the most effective way to make an impact on literacy, is by “making reading fun and accessible through the power of our books, authors, characters and brands” (Penguin UK, 2019).
They are working hard on making reading a priority for children, with one example being their Read On. Get On project. Through a partnership between Penguin Random House, the National Literacy Trust and the Publisher’s Association, their vision is to help every child in the UK read well by the age of 11. By making reading fun through their authors, characters and books, their goal is to eradicate illiteracy within the next generation so that every child can read well by the age of 11 by 2025 (Penguin UK, 2019).
Another goal of theirs is to donate 500,000 books to charity by 2020, working with organisations such as Book Aid International who give books to everything from communal libraries to refugee camps, in 12 different African countries. Penguin also supports World Book Night, which is an event that focus on getting books into the hands of people who normally don’t read for pleasure. Partnering with The Reading Agency, in 2018 they gave out 8000 free books which was then distributed to different homeless centres, hospitals, libraries and prisons. Keeping in mind that these people normally wouldn’t read for pleasure, 57% reported that after receiving a free book on World Book Night, they have read more (Penguin UK, 2019).
HarperCollins is another publisher that is working hard to increase reading engagement amongst children. Partnering with the National Literacy Trust on their project on ‘Literacy Hubs’, HarperCollins is working to drive engagement in reading and increase literacy and related skills in local communities. One of the cities where HarperCollins is working on a Literacy Project is Glasgow (Harper Collins Publishers, 2019).
In Glasgow, HarperCollins’s aim is to reach 40% of pre-school children in the north-east area, and in turn impact nearly 500 families. They are working with the Early Worlds Together programme, which works with parents with low literacy skills, which encourages them to take an active role in supporting their child’s learning and literacy development. Through the programme they aim to plan weekly activities, and sponsor books to every family involved, as well as offering book provisions for selected libraries (Harper Collins Publishers, 2019).
A publisher that has been working very hands-on with children is Scholastic. One thing that Scholastic are known for are their bookfairs, which started back in the early 1990s in the US. Since then, they have become very popular in Britain as well, and they now supply many schools with mobile bookcases containing over 200 new books from over 60 publishers that the children can enjoy. They have also created a book club, that offers books with great savings. Leaflets are distributed through schools in the country that children can take home with them (Scholastic, 2019).
Six times a year, a new Book Club is announced, including books with huge discounts that are available to buy. It is possible to either browse the leaflets sent to schools or look online to choose the books you want to buy, as every Book Club will always be run online as well. This is a great way to fundraise books for school libraries, as every book that is bought through the Book Club earns a free book for the child’s school from Scholastic (Scholastic, 2019). It is also a great way for the publisher to sell high volumes of their titles by getting their books directly into the hands of children, while also raising author and brand awareness.
The last publisher we will look at is Egmont. Egmont focus a lot of their resources to make parents of pre-schoolers aware of the importance of reading, reading for pleasure and how to do it well, as research shows that many are unaware of this. They also give resources to libraries by offering weekend story times for children, as many parents benefit from experiencing that storytelling is a lively and interactive event, so that they don’t get anxious about their children making noises during read-aloud time at home (Egmont Publishing UK, 2017).
The importance of libraries
Research has shown that there is a positive correlation between library use and reading aloud amongst families with young children. Nearly every public library offers programmes and activities for children aged 0-4 years, and parents who visited a public library once a month or more often had greater odds of reading aloud daily. There is also a correlation between owning a library card and reading aloud, as parents who own one have greater odds of reading aloud daily to their children aged 6- to 18-months. Library use is particularly important for low-income parents, who may not be able to afford to buy books for their children, and rely on libraries to get their children interested in reading (Chen, Rea, Shaw, and Bottino, 2016).
That is why it is troubling that more and more libraries are shutting down due to a lack of funding from government. According to an article from The Bookseller, in England in 2018, “105 libraries closed, reducing the number from 2,958 to 2,853, while 14 more libraries were passed to volunteers to control, taking the total number of volunteer-run libraries to 272, or 13% of the total” (Page, 2018).
Libraries are seen as important community hubs, where both children and parents are able to access a wide variety of books. It is therefore important for publishers to support public libraries with different campaigns and events, such as the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge. Publishers need to keep people interested in using their local libraries which will in turn make children, together with their families, read more.
There are several reasons as to why it is important for publishers to increase reading engagement amongst children. Research shows that literacy levels in England are low, and that low literacy skills are closely linked to both unemployment and poor health. It is therefore important for publishers, as a part of their social responsibility, to be a part of the fight against illiteracy. By creating opportunities for children when it comes to reading, through supporting different charities and public libraries, publishers are creating a whole new generation of readers, which in turn would mean a new generation of consumers for them to one day sell their books too.
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