Some will have a personal significance, either because they were great works of art that spoke directly to your soul, or because they were supremely entertaining or useful; others will have provided the perfect opportunity to share and enjoy stories with your children, becoming part of your family lore, culture and language.
But now close your eyes for a moment, and imagine your home without a book in it. Think of all you and those closest to you will have missed out on because there were no books to read and share.
If you are anything like me, that thought is quite terrifying. As a parent, I know, (quite aside from my own life), the life of my family has been immeasurably improved by the books we were able to enjoy as an everyday shared activity. And that hasn’t stopped just because my children are now grown up. Having books in my home has had an impact that lasts a lifetime; we still speak about books, give, share and compare them amongst ourselves, and derive a huge amount of pleasure and benefit from that conversation.
Most people in Scotland strongly agree with these sentiments. New research conducted by Scottish Book Trust revealed 85 per cent of parents from Scotland’s most deprived areas said reading helps them bond with their child and that reading makes their children happy, while 95 per cent of all parents in Scotland said they think it is important for children to own their own books.
And yet, there are far too many homes in Scotland that are not graced by books and where children have no opportunity to own them. We know this because too many children are starting education with little knowledge of or facility with books, and with poor language development, hindering their ability to develop into confident readers, writers and learners.
Those wishing to understand a main cause of the widening educational attainment gap between children from deprived households, and those who are more fortunate, need look no further.
This is why we approached Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler of The Gruffalo fame, and their wonderful publisher Macmillan Children’s Books, to see if we could work together to do something to change the situation. Their response was immediate, thrilling, supportive and incredibly generous.
Julia Donaldson said to us: “When The Gruffalo was published, I was writer-in-residence at Easterhouse in Glasgow. I have seen first-hand how books can light up a child, catch an imagination and change a life. A lot of the work I have done has been alongside Scottish Book Trust and I have seen the important and effective work that they do for children and families throughout Scotland. I couldn't be more pleased that The Gruffalo is now leading a fundraising campaign for the charity at a time when families need books and support more than ever.”
Alex Scheffler added: “It is sobering to see these well-known pictures from The Gruffalo without the characters included and to be starkly reminded that so many children and families have no access to books. Helping them to gain access is an urgent issue and I hope that this campaign will be able to raise the funds needed for Scottish Book Trust to make a difference to children's lives in Scotland."
Anyone doubting the crisis-like urgency of the situation will I’m sure be struck by the realisation that, as the Trussell Trust reports, between April 2020 and March 2021 demand at foodbanks rose 33 per cent, while since 2016 the need for foodbanks has increased 128 per cent. This involves around 300,000 families - in 21st century Scotland, no less.
Our response to this is to do everything we can to ensure this Christmas, those families are gifted books while also getting food, feeding bodies, minds and family togetherness. To do this we are working with Social Bite, Cyrenians, Trussell Trust, Aberlour Children’s charity, local authorities and a host of others to distribute books to around 300 foodbanks.
The gift of a book, as Julia Donaldson says, can change a life, bringing a lifetime of benefit, joy and personal development to the recipient. Books, in short, are transformational, most particularly in deprived households. I hope this Christmas you can help us make a difference through this, the simplest and the best of gifts. Every donation will enable Scottish Book Trust to deliver more life-changing work.
Marc Lambert, CEO Scottish Book Trust