Monday 15 July 2019

Building Kids’ Bookshelves - Just One (More) Book At a Time • by Natascha Biebow

I have this image stuck in my mind: just one book on a lonely bookshelf, occupying pride of place.

A precious resource.

The key to so many things, among them MAGIC. Yes, the magic of reading, the magic of another world, the magic of access, the magic of fun.

I grew up in a non-English speaking place, so books were treasured gifts from family living in England.

I loved reading, and I loved books. My school had a library also. More windows.

I still have these books. They are friends. When I was old enough, I filched from my parents’ bookshelves as well. 

But for many, the reality is very different. 

In 2018, in the UK, the National Literacy Trust surveyed 44,097 children aged 8-18. It worryingly concluded that 1 in 11 children and young people in the UK don’t own have a book of their own at home. 

The same survey also revealed unsurprisingly that “the more books a child owns, the more likely they are to do well at school and be happy with their lives.

It is well documented that reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, and that reading is key to developing empathy. Picture books (and all books!) matter.

There are some great initiatives to bring books into households:

Booktrust’s Bookstart – which gives free books to every child in England and Wales at two key stages before school, as well as free packs for children with additional needs.  

World Book Day –  where each child receives a £1 book token towards a book – is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. Published figures state that WBD reaches 15 million children and young people in 45,000 schools every year.

With every book donated, there is a greater chance of a child discovering their love of reading and gaining access to a brighter future. 

But, clearly, there is more to be done.

Even if children have one book on their shelves, they should be entitled to more. Access to books through free school and public libraries is something that will benefit everyone’s future.

This week, Cressida Cowell took over the mantel of Children’s Laureate from Lauren Child, with an ambitious ten-point charter:

In her impassioned speech at the launch event, Cowell talked about the magic of books and reading for fun. She promised to do more to lobby for access to books, school libraries and author and illustrator visits.

And she promised to LISTEN to what children are saying about books and reading and needing to address our planet’s climate emergency.   

School children support Cressida Cowell's laureate launch speech

Cowell admits that it’s a huge list, but she’s committed and she has the laureateship behind her.

But is there something I could do to contribute, I wondered?

I thought about this again . . .

And I remembered: on my author tour this Spring to promote THE CRAYON MAN, I met a teacher and librarian who shared with me the order form for my book that went home with the children. On it, in addition to the possibility of ordering my book to be signed when I came to the school, parents and carers could also choose to buy a book for another child, one who might perhaps not have access to such a thing. And people did!

At another school, the PTA purchased a book for the library and a copy to give out as reward for children who had achieved something noteworthy at school. I know some authors and illustrators, if they're able, sometimes donate a copy of their book to the school library.

If, for every author/illustrator visit we did, even one child got a book who might not otherwise have one, just think how many more books might be on that bookshelf?


Natascha Biebow,
MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor
Natascha is the author of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. She is currently working on more non-fiction and a series of young fiction. She runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Find her at


Pippa Goodhart said...

Yes, its so important and so simple and, actually, so cheap when compared with other forms of intervention to try and help children get a good start in life. There's the wonderful Dollywood Foundation giving books away too. I love the idea of an option to buy an extra book for a child who otherwise wouldn't get one. One school I went to bought a book for every child on Pupil Premium.

Amanda Hoving said...

Lovely post and an important message. I've been lucky to always have overloaded bookshelves and weekly trips to the library, but as a teacher/writer I know many students don't. The different resources and donation programs are wonderful. The picture of the mostly-empty bookshelf actually looks pretty hopeful to me.