There is a wonderful organisation called Book Start. If is funded by Booktrust which is in turn funded by the Arts Council, and has the laudable aim of introducing babies and preschool children to books and more importantly the enjoyment of books. Book Start does this, with help of publisher sponsorship, by providing every pre-school child with 3 book packs at 8 months, 2 years and 3 years. The pack is re-usable bag or box and 2 free books plus other goodies like a nursery rhyme placemat, a box of crayons or a colouring book and also help for parents starting to read to their children with ideas of how to use the books well. Lovely idea in many ways.
However, I do wonder about the resources being put into this and the effectiveness. If you are a parent of a young child I would be interested in hearing about your Book Start experiences. For us we were given the first pack at the 6 month hearing text. We got the second accidentally because I happened to ring the health visitor up and she offered to drop the bag off. At 2 most parents are not in regular contact with the health visitor and they no longer do an automatic check-up for 2 year olds. If I had not happened to ring the health visitor I suspect we would not have got it. At 3 I saw a poster at a church playgroup about the treasure chest box which I thought my 3 year old would love, and then the palaver started. I asked at the library, the library weren't sure about it at all. After a week I got a call asking why I had not got it through nursery. I said we didn't go to nursery just play group because they don't start nursery till the September after they are 3 by which time my child would be nearly 4. And so it went on. After a month the library managed to get the box for us. I was clearly the first person to ask and had I not had a bit of middle class know-how and persistence we would never have got the books.
Now I am bookseller and we're not short of books here. And, lets face it Book Start is not really aimed at literate families and I am just grateful for getting it in the end and the pleasure my little tot gets hiding things in the treasure box and applying the bookplates they sent to her favourite tomes. But what of the families for whom books are are rarity, or a bit scary? For whom starting books with children is hard work and the don't know how to start? Would they have pestered their local library till they got the box? If they are not working and using childcare would they even have seen the poster? Based on a sample of one town, I suspect that many of those families in most in need of the support of Book Start access probably only one of the 3 packs. Which considering how good the packs, what it most cost to put them together, and the general good idea of it all, is a real shame.