The joy of reading goes beyond World Book Day

June O'Sullivan
Tuesday, March 12, 2019

I grew up in a world where reading was a normal pastime. I didn't have access to many books at home but I was an avid library fan. I went every Saturday to borrow two books (we were only allowed two, I hid as many as I could for the following week behind the encyclopedia). I also got two books for my grandmother, usually something by Georgette Heyer or Jean Plaidy.

When I became a mother, I continued the same pattern and we regularly attended the local library at the end of our road. Sadly, this is now a private school. I won't talk about the importance of saving our libraries here because that is the subject of a number of blogs and I remain a trustee of my local library and the Booktrust.

As a child no one said, reading was good or quoted the research. There was no World Book Day to encourage reading - it just felt right, and I loved disappearing into the world of the Famous Five or Nancy Drew.

I remain an avid reader and cannot go to sleep without reading. I always have at least two books on the go, one a novel and the other an information book.

At the moment I am reading Sally Rooney's Normal People. (I have to admit that I picked that up because I thought it was a sociological study! It's not but instead a sensitive story about love). I have just finished The New Working Class by Claire Ainsley and am reading Ted Talks by Chris Andersson in preparation for giving a Ted Talk in April. The prospect of giving a Ted Talk is terrifying so I am trying hard to prepare.

Since growing up, the research about the benefits of reading to children has been confirmed. At LEYF we encourage reading in as many ways as we can. We want to develop storytellers who enthral the children which is one of the reasons we invited theatrical drag queens to read to the children. Children are receptive to the wonderful selection of books available. They don't need all the commercial push to dress up as a character. They just love their favourite books and being introduced to new books with new words, new ideas and new illustrations. Read it again, again, again what a delight and a privilege.

Our task in the nursery is to maintain that joy, championing reading with verve and enthusiasm to individual children as well as to groups so they leave with the story impressed on their minds. We want the child to use the book to bridge the learning into the home, so parents also enjoy the emotional bond of reading a story. We don't want the book replaced by the phone or the iPad.

Last year, we got involved in the Million Minutes Reading Challenge which saw more than 420,000 children, young people and families across the UK (including many LEYF nurseries such as Katharine Bruce Community Nursery who won the prize for the most average minutes - 61,820 minutes - reading to 63 children), read collectively for 100,019,560 minutes.

This year, they are doubling the target to 200 Million Minutes and the campaign kicked off on World Book Day. It's great fun so why not sign up your nursery.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website

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