As the school year draws to a close, the Books Council of Wales and Welsh Government are marking a key milestone in the Schools Love Reading book-gifting project to provide every child in a state school in Wales with a book of their own. Almost 300,000 free books and 170,000 book tokens have been given to pupils as the schools individual gifting stage of the project is completed. Last year around 53,000 books were also given to food banks and community groups in the first phase of the project.
The Books Council of Wales works to promote reading for pleasure and its benefits for mental health and well-being. In partnership with Welsh Government, they have been working to ensure reading and access to books is recognised as an essential, rather than a luxury. As families make difficult spending decisions, recent research suggests parents are now buying fewer books for their children1.
The Schools Love Reading programme provides schools, individual school children, and Welsh communities with books and book vouchers, to make books available to everyone, and in an attempt to support those who may be unable to provide a child with a book of their own.
The programme means learners across Wales have equal access to a diverse range of appealing and quality literature, in Welsh and English, that has been specially selected for children and young people.
Since April 2022, 53,075 free books have been delivered to local food banks and community groups, whilst almost 300,000 books have been gifted to state primary school children across Wales.
Meanwhile, to encourage older children and teenagers to continue to read for pleasure, the scheme has provided state secondary schools with book tokens which students can redeem against a book of their choice. 170,000 book tokens have been distributed, with 51 independent Welsh book shops and sellers participating.
Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said: “This is a fantastic milestone to reach. It is vital that we do everything we can to help ignite a passion for reading. Books open the door to new skills, boost imagination and play an important role in a child’s development.
“We want to make sure that children enjoy reading and continue to do so. The Schools Love Reading campaign is providing a great opportunity to spread the joy of reading.”
Book-ish in Crickhowell is one of the stores involved in the scheme, and said: “It’s been such a joy to be involved with the Schools Love Reading campaign, watching students pick their books and seeing them broaden their understanding of the world through reading. The scheme has provided so many children with the opportunity to make their first book purchase and allowed children who love to read but may not be able to access resources to acquire their own copies.”
In addition, throughout 2023, every state school in Wales will receive a box of 50 books, to enable learners to enjoy new books in the classroom or school library.
Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy in Conwy just received their box as part of the scheme, and said: “It was a privilege for us to have the author Bethan Gwanas to inspire our pupils with her passion for reading. They loved exploring the diverse range of books from our local bookshop.
“We also took the pupils to Llanrwst Library and the local Welsh language bookshop. It was lovely to see all of them return with a book they had chosen with their voucher.
“These visits not only fostered a love of reading but also connected us to the community. We have been able to share this joy of reading with students from Colombia on an exchange trip, as well as our year 7, 8, and 9 pupils. This initiative has sparked a new interest in personal reading among our pupils.”
The ultimate aim of the Schools Love Reading campaign is to encourage reading for pleasure from a young age. To spread the message, the campaign has enlisted the support of various Welsh personalities, including James Hook, Steffan Powell, Charlotte Harding and Bethany Davies, all of whom have written articles for the Books Council website, exploring their love of reading, and how it has shaped their personal lives and careers.
In her piece, Wales international footballer, Jess Fishlock MBE, highlights the importance of representing diverse communities in books aimed at young people. “The visibility of different communities and identities within books is so important. I struggled in school with bullying and coming to terms with my sexuality. I think if there had been books available for me at that time, to help me understand what I was thinking and feeling, then maybe I would not have gone through what I went through.
“Schools have a responsibility to educate pupils on the world around them, and to equip them with a knowledge of people from all walks of life, this includes representation of people from the LGBTQ+ community within literature or even school textbooks.”
She also touches upon the importance of prioritising reading and books:
“When times are tough, you may think a book is the last thing you need, but it could be the best thing to invest in right now, as it has the ability to take you away from the noise of the outside world.
During difficult financial times, people still have access to local libraries, they are a great way to get your hands on books for free.”
Helgard Krause, Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales said: “Our first book gifting initiatives took place in Ceredigion and Merthyr Tydfil during summer 2020 at the height of lockdown, to ensure children and young people had access to books when libraries and shops were closed, because reading is so important for our mental health and well-being.
We believe that everyone should have access to books, irrespective of their ability to afford them. We are very grateful to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language for sharing this vision and for funding Schools Love Reading to ensure every child in a state school in Wales has a book of their own.
We would like to see book gifting to schools become a regular activity and look forward to continuing to work with Welsh Government and with partners to continue to make books available for all to enjoy.”