Pupils perform at International Literacy Day celebrations in Kenya

Spreading the joy of reading across the world

27th March 2019 | Blog

At London Book Fair, our Head of Programmes Samantha Thomas-Chuula joined Cheltenham Festivals’ Education Director Ali Mawle and The Royal Commonwealth Society Africa’s Regional Youth Coordinator Gideon Commey on a panel discussing the transformative effect that reading for pleasure can have on disadvantaged communities – and how to introduce more people to the joy of reading.

Here, we share some of the key takeaways from their conversation which was led by Jake Hope, Chair of the Youth Libraries Group.


Reading promotion panel
L-R Ali Mawle, Samantha Thomas-Chuula, Gideon Commey and Jake Hope

A love of reading in children and young people can be ignited by a love of reading in their teachers

Cheltenham Festivals’ innovative Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils scheme particularly targets communities where fewer children have reading role models at home. To overcome this challenge, the scheme gives teachers the skills and tools to become reading role models in the classroom. It creates networks of teachers’ reading groups, giving teachers the time and space to discuss the books they are reading. The idea is to ignite (or reignite) a love for books and reading in the teachers – which in turn impacts the children they teach.

Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils at Linden School
A teacher and pupils from Linden School discuss a book as part of the Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils scheme

It is not enough to just have books available – people need to know they are there and why they are useful.

When Book Aid International’s partners in Africa hold International Literacy Day celebrations, they invite people from all sections of the community to attend so they can see what the library and its books make possible, changing perceptions about reading and the library. Parents learn how they can support their children with reading, teachers are introduced to the fact that they can bring their class for reading activities. Libraries often report an increase in usage after these events.

Writing can also promote reading.

Reading plays a key part in entrants’ preparations for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition. Young people are encouraged by their teachers to read more to improve their writing skills before they write their entry for the competition. In addition, taking part in the competition often increases young people’s determination to succeed and as a result, they are often more motivated to read.

The impact of giving the right book to the right child can be life changing.

Through Cheltenham Festivals’ Reading Teachers, Reading Pupils scheme, a pupil who was at risk of exclusion was introduced by his teacher to a book they thought he would enjoy and he was hooked! Today, he is still in school and has set up a lunchtime reading club with friends.

Reading aloud
A pupils reads aloud to her class in Ghana

Books and reading can empower young people to drive change.

The current generation of young people in Africa (where 60% of people are under 25) are a vibrant constituency who are working for change. In Ghana, many young people are setting up their own initiatives to give more people access to books. They are building libraries, creating mobile libraries, developing reading apps as well as simply visiting villages with books. Young people are realising how books have empowered them and are now seeking to give that same opportunity to more people.

Reading promotion events can empower librarians.

Reading promotion events not only change communities’ perceptions about the local library but the librarians that run them too. Local children point librarians out to their parents, teachers consult them for advice. This has a knock on effect – feeling more valued, librarians become more confident and approach their work with more creativity and innovation.


School pupils taking part in Kate Greenaway Shadowing
Every year, pupils in schools across the world read and discuss the books on the Carnegie and Greenaway Medal shortlists

Showing people the benefits of books and reading can bring change in various sections of a community.

As a result of attending reading promotion events or taking part in reading-focussed programmes, schools are setting up their own school libraries and asking their local libraries for help and advice; teachers are using books in their classrooms in new ways and libraries are even attracting additional funding from local government.

Do One Thing!

Everyone can Do One Thing, however small, to help promote reading in their community. Here are a few ideas:

We would like to thank Ali, Gideon and Jake for participating in the panel with us. You can find out more about Reading Teachers=Reading Pupils here, the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition here and the Youth Libraries Group here.


Did you enjoy this story?

Receive news, blogs, updates and stories in your inbox

Subscribe now

You may also like

Hear more from the RCS's Gideon Commey about how he got to where he is today thanks to books.
Read more >
Get more inspiration for your own reading promotion events from our sub-Saharan African partners' International Literacy Day celebrations.
Read more >
Find out more about our Radio 4 Appeal read by poet and novelist Ben Okri that's broadcasting on Sunday 31st March!
Read more >