Children across the city are celebrating World Book Day by sharing their favourite books, or dressing up as their favourite characters from books they’ve read. This morning, I joined the celebrations at Filton Avenue Primary School. At their assembly they told me about the books they’ve enjoyed reading, and I shared with them books that have particularly inspired me and that I’m currently enjoying.
The autobiographies of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X have been hugely influential, both in terms of my own politics and the ongoing relevance of the civil rights movement for the contemporary fight for racial equality. I am currently reading Michelle Obama’s Belonging, and I have been revisiting the Chronicles of Narnia by reading them with my own children.
Reading is not just good for our imagination. Access to books from an early age has a significant impact on education and social outcomes – as well as the mental health – of children and young people.
That is why, building on our status as England’s first UNESCO Learning City, we have built literacy and access to books into so many parts of city life. From ‘cloakroom libraries’ in our children’s centres and city farms, to encouraging people to volunteer to read with children in Bristol’s schools – our vision is for a city where every child reaches a good level of reading attainment by the time they begin school.
This is a challenge which is urgent. While we are making progress, only 64% of children in Bristol achieved the expected standard in Reading, Writing and Maths combined by the time they left primary school.
We all have a role to play in helping people in our city develop their literacy skills and instilling a love of reading in Bristol. Our libraries, of course, provide books and resources for residents to learn from and to enjoy. I’m proud that in this year’s budget we have kept all Bristol’s libraries open and fit for the future. Our Library Innovation Fund will also help modernise our library service. This funding will help thirty new community projects to flourish in libraries across the city, ranging from reading groups for children, to English Language (ESOL) courses for parents.
At our City Gathering earlier this year, we invited Ablaze Bristol to address the city and establish the aim of making Bristol a Reading City. You can participate in their campaign to improve children’s literacy in Bristol by volunteering to become a Reading Buddy or by donating so they can continue to train volunteers to help children with their reading and to introduce them to new stories to capture their imagination.
This video, which was shown at the City Gathering, helps to show the lifelong effects of filling in the gaps of children’s reading skills.