Why people don’t buy books for their kids

I was chatting with a journalist last week and she was telling me how she finds it staggering that there are children in this country who don’t own a book.  The current statistic is that 1 in 3 children in the UK don’t own a book, a statistic that is even more worrying in a country where the public libraries are closing or only being kept open by the good will of volunteers.  She is a woman who is passionate about words.  Indeed, she makes her living from words, and takes great joy from them too.  She loves nothing more than tucking in to a good book.

But its not just about fun when it comes to books.  Put bluntly, kids who can read do better at school, and then better in life.  If you read to your kids, from as early an age as possible, they are more likely to read for themselves, so why would you not do that?  Why would you not want that for your kids?  Why would you not put yourself through that discipline because it’s for the good of your kids.

And the answer is simple.  It’s exactly the same reason that most of us don’t go to the gym.  It’s just not our thing.  We know going to the gym is really good for us.  Being fit and healthy could stop us dropping dead, quite literally, but we don’t do it.  Obese people continue to eat fatty food, even though they know that it’s not good for them.  Smokers carry on smoking.  Drinkers drink.

But then there is the darker side.  If a parent is illiterate they will have become a master of getting by, but they will also have become a master of hiding their illiteracy.  Being illiterate is a greater taboo than mental illness.  The shame of admission is appalling.  The thought of going back to school abhorrhont and degrading, and they can barely afford to put food on the table, let alone waste money on themselves when they should have tried harder at school.  It’s their own fault – too late now.  Even worse, the possibility that they’ll pass this on to their kids is awful.  But they won’t will they?  Surely schools take care of that?  Surely parents don’t need to intervene.  And so the cycle continues.  How many rich illiterate people do you know?

Angela Rayner who, at the time of writing, is the shadow education secretary is a case in point.  Her mother was illiterate so she didn’t see a book until she was at school.   Her mum couldn’t read or write.  Angela’s journey through the education system was frought and she found herself pregnant at 16, living on a council estate.  She is now a 36 year old mum of 3 and an MP, with a brand new job.  Her “Tenacity and Passion” got her to where she is today.  Sounds somewhat like she’s had to claw her way up inch by inch.

When I sit in bed with my girls at night, both of whom can read at aged 6 and 3.5, the world of illiteracy and council estates seems miles away, and yet it’s just down the road.  Infact I can see one of the biggest council estates in the country from my daughters’ back window.  We take literacy for granted and we shouldn’t.  It’s not a given.  It’s not something that easily happens or we should rely on schools for.  It’s something that we should treasure, honour and look after because it is a precious gift that is proven to make people’s lives better.  Where bad things are happening in the world you’ll often find illiteracy goes hand in hand.  We can’t change that overnight, but sometimes we should take a moment to be grateful for the gift that we have.

Story Storks is a social enterprise for this very reason.  The profit we make goes towards helping kids who are at risk falling behind in their early years language and literacy development to try and put an end to that cycle of illiteracy and poverty.  I think I might drop Angela Rayner a line!




One thought on “Why people don’t buy books for their kids

  1. It’s reading articles like yours here that remind me just how fortunate I am, and in turn how fortunate my kids are. I grew up surrounded by books. One of my favourite summer holiday activities was sitting on the floor at the top of the stairs reading through our family ‘archive’ of National Geographic magazines. This was the mid- to late-80s, so the articles were all about the discovery of the Titanic, the treasures of King Tut’s tomb, photographic explorations of the Amazon, the archaeological treasures of the Mary Rose, Afghanistan after the Soviets were expelled … If I needed a break from these adventures, I would be lost through a looking glass, or out the back of a wardrobe, or finding a secret garden instead.

    It never occurred to me that other kids didn’t enjoy travelling the world in their imagination. Or, more troublingly, that they couldn’t. Now, reading stories to my kids is an essential part of my day. And we have started encouraging them to read to each other, too – our 6yr old daughter reads our 3yr old son one of his stories of an evening, and he reads the pictures of a book to her. It’s such a precious time!

    The flip side of this can be seen in one of my uncles, who is quite badly dyslexic. He grew up without the assistance that’s available now, and it wasn’t until his kids were learning to read at school (and they were teaching him as much as the other way around) that the penny finally dropped for him.

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