One of the best things about being a writer for children is the way that, every now and again, you get direct evidence that the work you're doing is making a real difference.
The Letterbox Club is a scheme, initiated by Booktrust (in the UK), where children who are placed with foster carers are sent, once a month, packs of books and number games. Many of these children have moved from one placement to another and rarely if ever get mail in the post addressed directly to them. Many have few, if any, books. Many are well below average in attainment levels.
So the big bright Letterbox packs, dropping through their postbox, addressed specifically to over 10000 children across the UK, with books and games chosen to match their current level, are truly exciting. Research has been done to prove beyond a doubt that these packs make a real difference to their reading and numeracy.
The two original Letterbox Club patrons are Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Lemn Sissay. I was asked, when the scheme spread to Northern Ireland, to be a regional patron. I write a letter to each child by name. Some of my books are included in the packs. And I go, every now and again, to a 'Fun Day' to meet the children.
Last Saturday we all met up in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. I read them my new picture book, The Nose that Knows - they seemed pleased to be the first children to see and hear it. I read Too Noisy, and they all joined in (especially a particularly enthusiastic young girl at the front!). I read them a chapter from Pete and the Five-a-Side Vampires and one little boy acted out, to much amusement, the role of Pete's pet dog Blob as he turned into a Werewolf. Everyone, even the adults, joined in the howling. Then we all went off and made models of wolves out of Jumping Clay.
As I was reading one very small boy edged closer and close to me until he was almost sitting in my lap. Afterwards his foster mother told me that, only a few weeks ago, he was so wary of strangers and of coming forward that such behaviour would have been unthinkable.
Dr.Rose Griffiths, founder of the Letterbox Club
The Letterbox Club in Northern Ireland is funded by Fostering Network as part of its Fostering Achievement programme, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Government. At a time of savage cuts - the NI government support for the Bookstart programme has recently been completely withdrawn - Letterbox Club funding has been guaranteed up to 2016. I very much hope that it will continue beyond that, and that The Letterbox Club, across the UK and possibly beyond, will survive and grow.