Saturday, 25 January 2014

Born to Read


I went away for a bit; other stuff was demanding my attention- some of it to do with arranging words and some of it to do with cake and Christmas and family.

Anyway I'm mainly back today to SWANK.

Because I was lording it around the House of Lords on Tuesday.

I'd like to say this was because I was taking my rightful place on the red benches due to my longstanding hereditary claims to the titles of Pollyland. But that would be a lie.

I was actually there to work; invited as a Volunteer Reading Helper for literacy charity Beanstalk to promote their brilliance and their new partnership with Save the Children. I've been volunteering in a local school for three years now, reading (and playing and chatting) with three children twice a week. I like to think they get almost as much out of our half hour sessions as I do.

Beanstalk has been in existence for over 40 years and there are reading helpers throughout London and in select other pockets of the country. Save the Children is obviously a much bigger, more well known organisation and thanks to their involvement, the hope is the Beanstalk model of helping children discover the pleasures of books; the desire to read, can be expanded substantially.

On Tuesday, the Born to Read initiative was launched in the company of other volunteers, bloggers, parents, MPs, some pretty starry authors and illustrators and some delightful local school children who had to have their photos taken holding books a LOT.

Michael Gove spoke whilst I bit my tongue and studied the swirls on the posh carpet intently. Lauren Child spoke whilst I gazed at her like a dreamy loon. Charity people spoke and said what we all know; reading MATTERS. It matters more than anything else in creating social mobility and life opportunity.

Have a look at Born to Read here. They need 7000 new helpers. You need 3 hours a week to spare. Money is also good.

This is all very important. But here were MY highlights:

-In the loos next to the River Room where we all gathered was a large claw footed bath. I may now have missed my only opportunity to have a sneaky lunchtime bath in the House of Lords.

-There was disappointingly little ermine. But I did enter the building through Black Rod's Garden. The perks of being Black Rod eh? Your very own black rod AND your very own garden. And all you have to do is bang a stick once a year for the Queen.

-Our remit being to mingle and network. I went to a network a couple standing on their own in a corner. "Hello, are you reading helpers too?" says I, "In a manner of speaking, I write books- so that helps- my wife Helen draws them too." This was the point I realised I was in the hallowed company of John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury and went a little dribbly. They were very tolerant of the dribble and we had a nice chat where I learned that the Lord Mayor's coach really had broken down this year (cf. 'Humbert') and Helen Oxenbury confided that 'John NEVER reads you know- never reads at all.' I enjoyed that given the occasion.

But I expect he can read (giggle)- and that is rather the point. Not everyone is so lucky as to have a choice. Let's work to try and change that shall we?