On National Reading Day, Senior Account Executive Rachael Dillon looks at how reading for pleasure can help to tackle functional illiteracy in the UK. Plus, PLMR colleagues share their favourite childhood books.
With a 99% adult literacy rate, on the surface the UK appears not to have much of a problem with reading and literacy. However, this top line figure only covers half the story. While 99% of the population might be technically able to read, 9 million adults are ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning that their reading and writing skills are inadequate for managing many daily living and employment tasks.
A similar trajectory is projected for today’s young people, with one in four British five-year-olds struggling with basic vocabulary and three-quarters of white working-class boys failing to achieve the Government’s literacy benchmark by the age of 16.
Poor literacy skills impact people in a variety of ways, from limiting job and life opportunities to being linked to shorter life expectancy, depression, and obesity. Meanwhile, the World Literacy Foundation estimates that the cost of functional illiteracy to the economy is over £37billion a year.
Reading for pleasure
While there are myriad factors at work when it comes to functional illiteracy, the significant decline in reading for pleasure can be seen as playing a part in the UK’s struggle to tackle it. Children are increasingly opting to spend their spare time on screens, with only 23% of 0-17-year-olds reading for pleasure ‘daily or nearly every day’, down from 38% in 2012.
The number one way of becoming a better reader is to read more. Beyond the pragmatic benefits of being a good reader, there is also a host of skills associated with reading for pleasure. Studies have shown that it can increase empathy and improve relationships with others as well as reduce the symptoms of depression and improve wellbeing throughout life.
It’s also been proven that children who read for pleasure from an early age are more likely to continue to do so into their adult lives.
Encouraging reading from an early age
So how do we get children interested in reading while they’re young? There are lots of ways to do it, which can be implemented both at home and at school. First and foremost, it’s important to give children a space to discuss what they read and receive and offer recommendations themselves. This will inspire them to keep engaging with texts.
Meanwhile, setting aside time for children to dedicate to reading every day with no interruptions ensures that reading isn’t in competition with other pastimes that might seem more appealing. Once a routine is established, children may then choose to read more outside of that allocated slot. Schools can facilitate this by working guided reading time into the day, and encouraging students to set up Book Clubs where they can discuss texts together.
Critically, reading should never be used as a punitive measure, but instead as a way to learn and destress. Similarly, it should be valued on its own and children shouldn’t be rewarded for reading by being given time with technology etc. Rewards like book vouchers are much more effective in incentivising further reading.
PLMR’s favourite books
The books we read and love as children stay with us for life, and even help shape us into the people we grow up to be. In honour of National Reading Day, some PLMR colleagues have shared their favourite books from childhood.
Nancy Laws, Senior Account Executive and PLMR Book Club Co-Chair
“I can’t say I read all that many autobiographies growing up (unless the diaries of Adrian Mole count), but one that’s stuck with me through to adulthood is Roald Dahl’s Boy: Tales of Childhood. Like lots of Dahl’s books, it’s sometimes dark, often funny, but never, ever dull.
“Dahl’s entire life was marred by equal-in-parts tragic and incredible events, and his childhood was no exception. From losing his sister and father in quick succession and spending glorious summers in Norway, through to masterminding “The Great Mouse Plot” and providing feedback as an official taste tester for the nearby Cadbury chocolate factory, Boy charts Dahl’s various scrapes as he navigates car crashes, adenoids and goat tobacco along the way.
“For all of its impish boyhood tales, Boy is also packed with moments of poignance and real heartbreak, particularly when the young Roald is sent off to boarding school at only nine years old to face cruel matrons and cane-wielding teachers. I can’t recommend it enough, for both children and adults – Dahl’s short story collections are also fab, too.”
Tiffany Beck, Head of Education
“My favourite childhood book is neither one book nor traditional – I discovered mystery, thriller and horror genres young, raiding my grandmother’s shelves at just six years old. I remember reading Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and being utterly captivated by the mystery, atmosphere and descriptions of the English coast and the creepy old mansion – undoubtedly a major influence on my obsession with National Trust houses nowadays. From there it was Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Mary Higgins Clark, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. My grandmother and I would get stacks of them from the library. She taught me to be fearless with my reading and in life, and perhaps to no surprise, my varied career path has always been centred around words – from book publishing to comms.”
Luke Walpole, Senior Account Manager
“Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle – beginning with Eragon in the early 00s – is undeniably derivative. J.R.R. Tolkien looms over every page, but that doesn’t detract from a story which is undeniably gripping. It has all the hallmarks of high fantasy, the dragons, dwarves and elves, the faint whispers of prophecies, and surprising familial revelations. Yet as a child, the world Paolini created, Alagaësia, felt all-encompassing and real, with a lore which wrapped tightly around you with every passing page. Nestled after Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings film trilogy, and before the behemoth which was Game of Thrones on the TV, Paolini’s books were an accessible gateway to another world. Plus, no matter your age, a fight between dragons will always be cool.”
Laura Coryton, Account Manager
“Jacqueline Wilson MBE has inspired so many young people to read and write, including myself and my twin sister Julia. We loved her book ‘Double Act’ because it beautifully showcases how twins can have their own identities, but remain partners in crime, which helped us stay so close growing up. The book is also filled with literary techniques I hadn’t come across before reading it, including juxtapositions as she explores the twins’ characteristics and interests for dramatic and comic effect, and it being written in the style of a diary entry which made it even more personal.”
Ben Farmer, Account Executive
“Despite growing up in London, going into the centre of the city was (and still is!) an adventure when I was growing up. The London Eye Mystery perfectly captures the excitement of central London and one of London’s best attraction’s: The London Eye. The novel really captures the awe and wonder of the Eye but also of London as a city to be enjoyed no matter what your age is. At the heart of this novel is a classic of literature: the crime thriller. A police investigation, a whodunnit, a race across the city to find Salim who went missing from inside a sealed London Eye capsule. The twists and tales are perfectly executed by Dowd and set me off on a love of crime thrillers which I still have today. As well as capturing the essence of London and thrillers, the novel advanced children’s disability awareness by including insights about growing up with Asperger syndrome.”