Books for Kids for Christmas


We did it!

Thanks to your amazing generosity, Kate’s Books for Kids for Christmas hit its target in an astonishingly short space of time.  I only started haranguing you all to donate to my cause on 25 November and less than a month later, we had hit the target of £3,323.  In fact, with posted donations and taking into account gift aid, we have actually managed to raise £3,355.

What it means is that we were able to buy books for over 380 vulnerable children and young people who are supported throughout the year by CHILDREN 1ST.  And there’s a little left over in the pot for books with the remainder going to CHILDREN 1ST to support its work – much of which is supporting vulnerable children in families.

Some services work one to one with families as and when they are referred by different agencies, so they didn’t put an order in for books.  So what I’ll do with the remaining pot is buy them a small pack of books in the New Year to keep somewhere safe and to pass on to children as they come into contact with them and their families.

I am truly humbled by everyone’s generosity and by how the cause touched so many people’s hearts.  What is remarkable is that this is needed at all – Scotland is a wealthy country by most modern standards but there is still appalling poverty.  For some children, this book from Santa will be the first they have ever owned.  Here’s hoping that it will set in train a thirst for reading and knowledge that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.  Every child deserves the best start in life and books and reading can help to provide that.

It wasn’t easy deciding which books to buy but judging by all the ooh-ing and ah-ing emanating from Santa’s little helpers at CHILDREN 1ST’s main office when we were sorting them all and packing them up to send on all over Scotland, some good choices were made.  Let’s hope the children who receive them agree!

There are a few special thank yous to be made.  Firstly, to those helpers at CHILDREN 1ST.  Especially the office manager who decided to play Santa and deliver boxes of books to East Lothian, Midlothian and South Edinburgh.

Also, to Peter and Cheri Lucking who stumbled across the cause on Twitter and all the way from the US of A ordered a box of books and dispatched them too.

And to everyone who retweeted, blogged and drummed up support – thank you.  It wouldn’t have happened without you.  But I especially want to thank Susie Maguire (@wrathofgod), Ruth McLeod, Patrick McPartlin (@p_mcpartlin) and Lee Randall (@randallwrites) who have tweeted beyond the call of duty. It all helped hugely in increasing awareness and donations.

It would seem that this idea has legs.  Many folk wanted to donate much-cherished books they were ready to recycle.  We’ll investigate in the New Year what we can do to take them off your hands!

Also, there are lots of vulnerable children out there whom we didn’t manage to reach this year so who knows, we might do this again?  No groaning at the back there!

Some people gave up friends and colleagues’ contact details – very generous of them – as they might have been in a position to help.  The timescales were so short that we had to park those ideas this year but with all of 2012 to plan and prepare, I will follow up with them.  One interesting idea is to make contact with some of Scotland’s book festivals, especially the children’s book festival.  That will definitely be investigated.

So, a last word this Christmas.  Everyone – give yourselves a deserved pat on the back.  Your books for vulnerable children for Christmas are winging their way to homes all over the country, from Fraserburgh to Irvine.  Together, we have achieved something amazing and not only given some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children a Christmas to remember, but hopefully a gift that will keep on giving.

But the really last word isn’t from me but from the lovely Kirsty Regan.  She and her team at NewsDirect emptied out their piggy banks and pooled a substantial donation and I then had the cheek to ask Kirsty to tell me why books matter to her.  She describes their importance perfectly:

We are a household devoted to books.  “If it doesn’t move, shelve it!” was the joke our carpenter made in reference to our need to squeeze our large boxed-up library into our wee ex-council house.  The shelves that don’t contain books are home to audio books, for cooking to, driving to or just lying back and listening to.  

In more recent months, the large-format lower shelves were cleared to give our toddler his own little corner to store his picture books (and tractor magazines!).  At least once a day, he’ll be found there, crossed-legged, maybe only for 5 minutes at time, but choosing a book and leafing through the colourful pages.  

And those are sometimes bittersweet moments – full of joy that we’re passing a treasury of tall tales and stupid stories to our son, but also sad to think that some kids don’t grow up with that gift.  If we can provide the funds for a handful of books for kids who would otherwise go without, then we can hopefully bring smiles to more faces – both kids and parents – this winter.

 

Why Books matter to me

The Books for Kids for Christmas campaign has gone amazingly well – the total is up to £2,256.50.  In such a short time!  Thank you everyone who has donated – and if you haven’t yet, there is still time!  Please do, £10 plus Gift Aid buys a book and helps CHILDREN 1ST pay for the support workers who can spend time with parents and children encouraging them to read together.  You can donate online here or also send a cheque to Kate Higgins CHILDREN 1ST, 83 Whitehouse Loan, Edinburgh, EH9 1AT.

And I’ve been lucky enough to have oodles of support, people kindly tweeting and facebooking and spreading the word to friends and family.  So I asked some of the campaign’s most ardent supporters what books mean to them and to tell us about the role books played in their childhood.  Three here, more to come….

Susie Maguire, who blogs at Wrath of God herself and who writes books and short stories, as well as fighting a hugely important campaign against cuts at the BBC, said:

I was a lucky child. I was read to by both parents, and one of my earliest memories is of playing with wonderful pop-up books, stories such as Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel, and The Three Little Pigs. The written words were still beyond me but the images and the ‘feeling’ of how a story was told – one event following another, tension, surprise, peril, resolution, etc – were magical. When at last I was able to read properly by myself, I saw the physical book itself as a friend, an ally, and a map, rolled into one. Reading became – and remains – one of my greatest pleasures. Books are vital. Stories about others inform us about who we are ourselves, and help us discover who we want to become. Every child should have the chance to take those virtual journeys, make those discoveries

Caron Lindsay, a well-known Liberal Democrat blogger (Caron’s Musings), had this to say:

“As a child, I was rarely without my nose in a book. I might have been learning something for school – or, more likely, about Paul McCartney or Doctor Who. I might have been bombarding my imagination with tales of adventure, intrigue and human relationships. Sometimes books were my key to winning an argument. Sometimes they were respite from unhappiness. They were a crucial part of me finding out who I am. Over the years they’ve excited, reassured and challenged me.  To this day I love the feeling of being so lost in a book that I can’t bear to put it down. You can’t passively read in the same way you can passively watch tv. You have to engage with the characters and concentrate on the plot. The ability to concentrate and analyse are vital skills for life. That’s why every child needs to have access to as many books as possible.”

Sara Sheridan, who is a reputed and now-pretty-famous historical novelist (her books are great and I can heartily recommend them as Christmas presents!), added her views:

“I was always a swot!  My brothers played sports and I’d be inside, my nose in a book.  Now when I talk about it, I say they were exercising one kind of muscle and I was exercising another.  That’r really, I suppose, what books did for me as a kid and it’s what books still do for me – they exercise my most important muscle, my brain!”

Sara was, in fact, the first person to donate to my campaign and I am hugely grateful for her, Caron’s and Susie’s ongoing support.  They show, in a few short sentences, the power and the wonder of books.

Please help us share this magic with vulnerable children in Scotland this Christmas and give them the best gift we can, a book so that they might also discover the joy of reading, and who knows go on to become a blogger, novelist or writer too.

Thank you!

This weekend, I have been following everyone I know on Twitter (and a few more besides) in the hope they follow back.  It’s been indiscriminate, but I make no apology for it as it has been for a very good cause, as will become clear.

But in trawling through my follower and following lists, I have been struck by how many of my fellow twitterers are who they are and do what they do because they can read – and clearly love reading.

All the ones who are researchers, fundraisers, teachers, trade union officials, PR professionals, journalists, critics, business people, musicians, politicians and writers.  All spend much of their working days reading.  And I wonder if it ever crosses their minds what they would do if they couldn’t read, and read well – what their lives would have been like without access to books in their childhoods.

I can’t.  Books have been a constant companion throughout my life.  I still have some of my childhood Ladybird books.  And can still recall the books and stories thrilled me as a child.  Now, I spend much of my working life reading; I still – unfashionable I know – read printed newspapers; and I get positively jittery if I don’t have at least one book on the go.

Consequently, my children’s lives have been stuffed with books and stories.  Santa always brings them a book – even the Big Yin – and I have become the archetypal auntie who buys books for all the weans she knows.

But I know and have met children and young people who have few books in their lives.  Poverty does that.  It makes your parents and family make choices about what to buy and what not to.  And books are rarely a priority on the shopping list.  Sometimes it’s just that home life is so chaotic and that parents lack the skills and knowledge to choose to spend money on a book.  Other stuffs and considerations take priority, few of them focused on their children’s needs.

And when vulnerable children flee a violent home or are removed from their homes because they are at risk of or are being harmed or neglected, usually at a moment’s notice, there’s seldom time or space to pack possessions like books.

Yet, books and reading are arguably even more important to vulnerable children.  They are the gateway to a brighter future.  They are a place in which to lose yourself from the reality and paucity of everyday life.  Books open doors and worlds.  They foster knowledge, they spark imagination, they can cross continents and time and space.

Books can make such a big difference to vulnerable children’s lives.

It’s something the charity that I work for, CHILDREN 1ST, understands.  Many of our services work with parents to help them help their children read.  Often, it’s simple pleasures like this that provide real joy.  Reading together can forge strong bonds and give vulnerable children a better start in life, and better life chances.

The crunch point came when a speaker at a conference revealed that when told that the average reading age of male prisoners in Scotland was 11, the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, looked aghast.  If we want to do one thing as a nation to reduce future prison populations, to prevent tomorrow’s problems today, then giving a vulnerable child a book might well be it.

So, for once, I decided to do something about it.  I’ve set up a fundraising campaign to buy vulnerable children supported by CHILDREN 1ST a book for Christmas.  For some, it will be the first book they have ever owned.  For others, it will be the only Christmas present they receive this year.

Already, the response has been fantastic – over £1000 raised, over 100 children all getting a book for Christmas this year.  And it’s been going only 72 hours.

But it’s not enough – not yet.  And that’s why I’m using this here blog – breaking the rule I set myself, not to mix work with blogging – to seek your help.

How can you help make sure hundreds – thousands? – of vulnerable children in Scotland discover the joy of having a book of their own to read and to treasure this Christmas?

You can give.  £10 is enough, with half going towards buying a book and half going to help CHILDREN 1ST pay for things like the cost of a support worker who will encourage a parent to read regularly with their child, or for materials that can help an abused child recover from their trauma by expressing themselves through art, writing or play.  And if you gift aid it, the UK Government gets to help us too.  All the gift aid raised will go towards the cost of the books.  (go here to donate now!)

You can spread the word.  Through Twitter and Facebook, by email and by good old word of mouth.  And if you have a blog please consider a wee note and a link to this page.  The more people who know about the campaign, the more money we can raise.

You can ask.  Does your employer have a Christmas charitable cause?  If not, why not suggest they and your colleagues support this one.  Do you do a secret Santa at work?  If so, could everyone donate a couple of pounds more to create an extra gift to give to a vulnerable child?  Do you have a Christmas saving fund or a kitty for a big night out with colleagues or friends?  Could everyone put in a few pence or pounds more to create a £10 donation to the campaign?

And if I haven’t done enough to persuade you yet to help, I’d ask you to close your eyes and remember back to your childhood and your favourite book.  And to think of all the ways books have helped you in your life, to achieve your hopes and dreams.  And to imagine a life without books

  1. I am that book buying aunty in our family too. :-)

    I come from a background where books were considered the keys to anything and everything. My childhood and that of my children revolved around the local library since relentless book purchase was impossible. I devoured books as a child. Even now I have compulsions to acquire books.

    I applaud what you are trying to do and i’ll join you in your campaign. Every little helps!
    Good luck

    • Karen, thanks for your comment and support! We too use the library constantly for the same reasons. But there is nothing like watching your child perusing his/her own bookshelf and picking out a well worn, beloved story book for you to read to them. Just nothing like it.

      Appreciate your help, hugely. Thanks.

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