Gale's View - August 19th 2009

Have you heard of Bookstart?  I am ashamed to say that until recently I had not. Parliamentary recesses afford MPs the chance to engage in a number of activities for which there is simply not the time when the House is sitting and meeting with interesting and informative people is one of those activities.

I have just met with the Deputy to the Director of Bookstart who, although it is a national charity, happens to be based in Whitstable and has a deep and personal knowledge of the libraries of Thanet and Herne Bay and a very close working relationship with Kent County Council.

I was unaware, until I met Kay Devine, that Bookstart offers to every Kent child, free, a pack of books and other support materials at three different stages in their lives (0-12 months, 18-30 months and 36-48 months). 
What? Give a new born baby a book?  Well, why not, as a matter of fact.  I know that in an age when Electronics rule the world, when entertainment is available via a flickering screen in most rooms of most homes and encyclopaedic information is available at the push of a button via the Internet, the good old-fashioned illustrated hardback is to be found only in too many attics. I also know that a computer cannot sit you on its knee and read you a bedtime story and I know that while spell-check can teach you how to spell words in American it cannot tell you the meaning of those words in context.

So back to the new-born baby.  The packs are delightful, colourful and, of course, basic.  They are designed to get toddlers used to the idea of having books of pictures and words around them and they are designed to help parents to help their children to take the first steps down the path of enjoyment that comes with the ability to read.  Like swimming, the sooner the better.

In the last year for which figures are available, 2007-2008 45,977 Kent children received bookstart packs and that includes dual language packs available in 107 languages and book-touch packs for the visually impaired. Of the total figure seventeen and a half thousand were baby (0-12 month) packs delivered by the Registrars of births. In theory, every newborn child in North Thanet should have received this free and valuable gift - but in practice it's clear that these books are still not reaching every home and I want to make sure that, at least in my own constituency, all new parents know about the scheme and take up the offer. In the North of England there is a vast warehouse full of children's book packs waiting to be delivered. In that warehouse, they are useless. In the hands of the young people and parents for whom they are intended they can be magical.  Want to know more?  Drop me a line or search www.booktrust.org.uk. And make a diary note for National Bookstart Day on 9th October.

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