Why books are vital for children and the healing power of books for children in hospitals

Books . . . have been read and written about for centuries.  As a bibliophile it’s all too easy to assume that other people love books as much as I do, also think they are important, and encourage their children to read them.

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” ― J.K. Rowling

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” ― Maya Angelou

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) believes that books and reading are so important that it monitors both the number and type of books published per country per annum as an index of standard of living and education, and of a country’s self-awareness.1 For children, research has shown that reading for pleasure improves their life chances and their academic results.  In a civilized country like the UK it is shocking therefore that almost 4 million children do not own a book, which equates to one in three children.2

Commenting on the research results, Jonathan Douglas, the Director of the National Literacy Trust, said the numbers of children without books were of “particular concern”. “We know there is a direct correlation between book ownership and children’s reading abilities,” he said.

“With one in six in the UK struggling with literacy it is very worrying that many children could be missing out on opportunities to develop these essential skills.” Read for Good, a UK charity, has been assisting children to read for pleasure for nearly thirty years through its Readathon events.  Readathon helps teachers and librarians to engage children in reading and at the same time raise money for seriously ill children. Readathon’s facts and figures are astonishing!

  • Nearly £23 million has been raised by the readers over this time
  • Around 3,000 Readathon packs are sent on request every year to teachers and librarians
  • Over 750,000 children every year take part

And as if this wasn’t enough to contribute to the important cause of encouraging children to read for pleasure, the Read for Good team have gone up a gear and are doing even more!

In 2010 they created a new arm of the charity  – ‘ReadWell’, in order to bring books and stories to children in hospitals, where book provision is woefully lacking and hospital school budgets are already stretched.  The hospital environment, despite staff’s best efforts, is often distressing for children and their visitors alike.  Hospital schools cater for 100,000’s of children who are hospitalised every year and hence are some of the biggest and most challenged schools in the country.  Birmingham hospital school for example, has over 200 teachers and works with more than 600 children each day. There are inherent difficulties in the provision of books and stories to children in hospital:

  • patients at high risk of infection, such as those receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy, transplant patients and burns victims can only read brand-new books;
  • books need to be transported on mobile trolleys, which can move easily around wards and can get up close to a child’s bedside;
  • healthy siblings of the patient need to be catered for too at visiting times or if staying with their family member – they also can feel bored, lonely and distressed;
  • some children may be too poorly to read; in these cases a storyteller can provide comfort and distraction.

Read for Good has risen to the challenge and is currently funding ReadWell in three children’s hospitals (Bristol, Birmingham and Oxford) at a cost of c. £10,000 per hospital per year.  It provides each one with:

  • 100 new books each month;
  • a tailor-made, time-tabled book trolley that moves around wards;
  • regular visits from experienced, professional storytellers;
  • opportunities for children to keep their book.


ReadWell’s wish is to make life better for children in hospital and there is no doubt that they are doing so – the response to ReadWell from professionals, parents and children has been overwhelmingly positive.   But they need more funds to continue and expand this wonderful work.

How you can help

The charity wants to increase its reach to include all major UK hospitals (30) over the next 3-5 years.  The projected cost for this is £300k per annum.  If you would like to donate, or help with fundraising efforts for this hugely important cause, ReadWell is currently running a fundraising campaign via Twitter (@ReadwellUK) and SMS Text:

Text READ98 £3 to 70070 and this will result in an automatic donatation of  £3, which will buy a brand new (germ-free) book for a seriously ill child in hospital.

or contact them via their website: http://www.readwell.org.uk Telephone 0845 6061151 Email reading@readathon.org


1 Wresch, William. (1996). Have and Have-Nots in the Information Age. Rutgers University Press, p. 39 2http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8934429/4m-children-in-UK-do-not-own-a-single-book-study-finds.html December 5th 2011


About Dr. Elaine Atkins

Author, Therapist and Communications Director at www.CareandCompare.com
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