When you give a child a book…

This is my favourite badge from the SCBWI conference last month.

Designed by Paul Morton

I love the kids hiding not just under but also inside a book, like it’s their den. Having been a child myself, I know dens are very important.

It’s old news now, but last week The Telegraph reported on a survey from the National Literacy Trust that 4m children do not own a single book. I asked a colleague who distributes Bookstart what she thought about that statistic. Even in her role as a book giver, she said that in some parts of the country, she could well believe it’s true.

I’ve been following the Countdown to Christmas post on Notes From the Slushpile. Agents, publishers, editors, booksellers, almost theres, coaches and poets have been posting their hopes for Christmas and 2012. Top on Sarah Odedina’s wish list is a book in every Christmas stocking – that’s adults and children – one way of getting children to read is to model it yourself – all the better if you’re a parent and better still, a dad.

Among other things, The Telegraph report talks about literacy levels, ‘magical carpets’, reading as ‘one of the richest and most thrilling experiences that they can have’ and ‘the skills that children acquire through reading’.

While I absolutely agree with all the above, I think there’s more.

I have a list.

When you give a child a book this Christmas, you’ll be giving them:

  • The reassurance that other children feel the same way. They’ll have access to children’s secret thoughts, the ones that aren’t shared in the playground – the thoughts that make children feel they’re the only one. A book can show them they’re not.
  • A way to live their lives not by being told but shown how other people live and the freedom to come to their own conclusions about how to live their way. At the SCBWI Conference this year Frank Cottrell Boyce talked about a young woman who was successful in spite of the odds being stacked against her. What made the difference to her life? A book.
  • A hiding place. Who hasn’t slouched over their desk behind a text book wall?
  • The opportunity to be read to. A bedtime or anytime story is one of those priceless relationship-building times.
  • An escape hatch when everything gets too much.
  • A wardrobe door, a gateway to possibilities of the imagination for the real and the made-up worlds.
  • Inspiration, kick starts to their own imagination
  • The chance to meet extraordinary people up close and personal. Often, unexpectedly extraordinary people, who might appear ordinary on the outside but because they’re in a book, the reader will know what’s really going on.


  • Hope. Bad things will always happen in real life and in a good story you have to have trouble. Books can help children find a way through their own.

Give a book for Christmas and you give a whole lot more.

Can you add to this list? Either from what you remember as a child or what you’ve noticed in children you know.


12 responses to “When you give a child a book…

  1. Hi – your excellent list reminded me of something from an introduction by Will Smith at a kid’s award ceremony years ago:
    “There’s no new problem you could have
    with your parents, with school, with a bully, with anything.
    There’s no problem you could have
    that someone hasn’t already solved and wrote about it in a book”

    The whole thing’s called Running and Reading and it’s here:

    Merry Christmas and Happy book-giving

  2. This is so true. I give one child family member a book every Christmas, but when I go around they have mysteriously disappeared as the parents don’t agree with reading. How sad is that?

    I however tend to give books, to kids and adults alike. What could be a better gift than a book?

  3. What a great post. I love giving books to my nephew, especially as we like the same stuff (despite the 25 year age gap!). Good books never go out of fashion.

  4. YES! I have a mountain of books to give away this Christmas … this list reminds me of Newbery winner Richard Peck who said: ‘If you cannot find yourself on a page early in life you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places’ – He also wrote a kind of young reader’s creed, answering the question ‘Why Read’ – “I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I’m just beginning myself, and I wouldn’t mind a map” – blogged about it here: http://notesfromtheslushpile.blogspot.com/2010/03/richard-peck-on-beating-heart-of-what.html

  5. Jan,
    Thanks for posting your brilliant list and promoting the gift of literacy. To your list I would add friends – both the imaginary friends populating the pages of books & the friends gained through sharing our favourite stories.

    • Thanks Patricia,
      What an excellent addition. You’re so right, it’s the same for adults as well – If you find someone who loves the same story as you they’re immediately a kindred spirit.

  6. bridgetstrevensmarzo

    Thanks! Glad I discovered this great list – and it’s not just for Christmas!

  7. Pingback: Who’s it all for anyway? | Words & Pictures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s