Tackling the reading challenge together


Joanna Prior, Chair of the Publishers Association’s Reading for Pleasure Group and MD of Penguin General

Today the Publishers Association is one of a consortium of organisations putting its name to a new strategy paper that seeks to ensure that every child in this country can read well by the time they leave primary school at eleven.

According to this summer’s assessments only 66% of 11 year-olds are reading at expected levels.   The Read On Get On strategy calls for us to have much higher ambitions for all children and makes the point that enjoyment is a vital element of reading well.

Reading for pleasure is not just a nice bi-product of literate children; it is a vital key to unlocking literacy.  The enjoyment of reading, something that can be nurtured from birth, by parents, carers and role-models, provides one of the biggest contributors to a child’s success as she travels through life.  Reading for pleasure impacts on our likelihood of being happy, healthy and engaged in life. Creativity, empathy, imagination are all fuelled by reading for pleasure.

Threaded through the report are examples both of what is currently being done to encourage children to read by the many charities operating in this arena, and what vital additional work needs supporting alongside the pedagogical activities in schools and pre-school settings.  The publishing industry plays a valuable role here in the very obvious sense that it discovers and underwrites the extraordinary creative talent of this country’s authors and illustrators.  It has been said that we are living through a “golden period of children’s literature”.

You only need to see the line up of events and activities on the first Thursday in every March for the past 19 years – otherwise known as World Book Day, the publishing industry’s hugely successful nationwide celebration of reading – to know what a dazzling array of talent we have in the UK to inspire readers of all ages.  Our industry has long been concerned by alarming statistics that tell a tale of children for whom the wonder, magic and sheer  necessity of reading is elusive.

Many publishers are already engaged in the various imaginative schemes for putting free books into the hands of kids, through World Book Day,  Bookstart Baby, through partnerships with the likes of Macdonalds or Boots; finding ways to get books into the shocking percentage of homes without a single book.  We, and our authors, applaud and contribute to the fabulous partnership the NLT has with the Premier League, bringing boys to books through their footballing idols, or with The Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge.  These (and many others) are all campaigns that make reading fun, inclusive, joyful for children.

But these campaigns are not enough on their own.  Today we are reiterating our call for everyone to have access to free books through a comprehensive public library service and request that the department for Education introduce a statutory requirement for all state‑funded schools to have a school library with sufficient books available for all of its children and have a nominated library specialist among its staff.

Today marks a step-change in our approach to the reading challenge we face in England.  It is a serious matter.  We are talking about your life chances being severely limited by the age of eleven if you can’t read.  How is it possible in the country that boasts Roald Dahl, JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Beatrix Potter, David Walliams, Julia Donaldson, that we can’t fix this?    We must not fail the next generation.