The Reading Agency to pilot integrated local authority model for Summer Reading Challenge 2021

This year, we are pleased to be working with library authority partners across the UK to pilot a local authority partnership model for delivery of the Summer Reading Challenge. The annual reading for pleasure programme delivered in partnership with public libraries reaches over 700,000 children across the UK each year, keeping them reading through the summer with incentives and fun activities. This year’s Wild World Heroes themed Challenge in partnership with WWF will launch in June/July 2021.

Through the local authority pilot work and supported by a new digital Challenge platform, we, alongside our library partners, will be aiming to increase engagement in the Challenge to children who might not normally take part, particularly those in areas of disadvantage. Evidence shows that the Challenge is an effective Covid recovery tool, encouraging reading for pleasure over the summer holidays, building reading skills and confidence, and helping to prevent the ‘dip’ in reading skills while children are out of school.

The pilot involves public libraries working with other local authority partners including education, social care, children’s services and public health to support universal and/or targeted entitlement to summer reading activity through the Summer Reading Challenge via primary schools and other relevant networks. For £1 per child, authorities can provide access to the Challenge plus a range of incentives and rewards to encourage the reading habit – all free to children and families at the point of access. A cohort of library services have been testing the response to the proposed model with local authority partners, with ten authorities securing cross-authority support to pilot the approach in 2021.

The pilot model is based on public library services working at a strategic level across the local authority to support universal access to the benefits of summer reading activity whilst also targeting communities most in need. Evidence shows this engagement is likely to deliver an increase and improvement in reading engagement, motivation, confidence and communication skills1. There is also evidence to show that engagement with the Challenge supports wellbeing and family connectedness2 – vital in a post pandemic landscape where children are estimated to have lost at least two months of learning in reading3 and existing inequalities have been amplified.

Cohort authorities are testing a range of approaches with the aim of expanding Summer Reading Challenge reach and entitlement – library services taking part in the pilot, with support from local authorities, include those in: Oldham, Newcastle, the London boroughs of Newham and Islington, Staffordshire, Leeds, Manchester, Libraries NI (Northern Ireland), Portsmouth and Jersey. Collectively, the services are aiming to reach over 100,000 additional children with the new model.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said:

“Never has it been more important to support children’s engagement with the proven power of reading and start their reading journeys. Reading not only develops life skills and learning but also supports mental health and well-being. The past year has been particularly challenging for children across the country, and we hope that by working with local authorities on this new integrated approach, the benefits of the Summer Reading Challenge will reach more families than ever.”

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Manchester City Council’s executive member for Skills, Culture and Leisure said:

“Children have missed out on many opportunities since the pandemic, so we are really pleased to be involved in this pilot which allows us to reach out to more than 16,000 children in 40 of our local primary schools for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, complementing what we already do in our local libraries. The disruption to children’s education during the last year cannot be underestimated and engendering a love of books for pleasure will not just help with educational attainment and development but will help them with the skills they need to succeed not just in school and work but throughout their adult lives.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for Learning, Skills and Employment said:

“The Summer Reading Challenge is a fantastic way to engage even more primary school children and their families in reading. Reading is a fundamental skill for children and can provide lots of additional benefits to health and wellbeing, especially as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Not only does reading help with educational attainment but it can provide lots of pleasure and spark imagination. It is great that Leeds will be part of this new model alongside other local authorities to help encourage children who have not previously taken part in the Challenge to enjoy the benefits of reading and provide access to the resources to do so.”

Janene Cox, Assistant Director Culture, Rural and Safer Communities at Staffordshire County Council said:

“Across Staffordshire we recognise the real importance of supporting children’s early speech and language development and we believe that reading with your child is a vital part of this process. As we emerge from the pandemic this has now become even more important; and by piloting the mini Summer Reading Challenge with pre-school children in targeted areas of Staffordshire we are hoping that this will enable our children within these areas to begin their school life with a good level of development in speech and language development and communication skills.”

Deborah Peck, Library Development Officer for Newham Libraries said:

“We here in Newham are really excited to be taking part in the Reading Agency’s pilot project and are delighted to be helping to make reading accessible and access to the Challenge an entitlement for all children. From experience we have learnt here in Newham that the more barriers you remove the easier you make it for all children, particularly children living in more deprived areas, to have the same life chances as those from more affluent backgrounds.

“We are looking forward to welcoming children, some of whom may never have been in a library before, and to engaging families who might not have thought that ‘books and reading’ were for them. We can’t wait to share with children the amazing journey that awaits them as they discover what sort of reader they are, a journey which we hope will last a life time.
We hope that this year’s pilot will have a huge impact on children’s well-being and our increased engagement with primary schools will continue to be a flourishing partnership through which our children and families will thrive.”

Cllr Asima Shaikh, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Inclusive Economy and Jobs and the council’s lead on libraries, said:

“Reading is vital for children’s development, and solid reading skills are a foundation that helps children unlock opportunities throughout their lives. This is why, for Islington Council, reading is an important building block in making the borough a fairer place, where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential and enjoy a good quality of life. Islington has been steadfast in keeping our libraries open despite ongoing cuts to council budgets, and are delighted to be pioneers of this innovative work linking libraries with schools and children’s services.”

For more information, visit

Find out how we did in 2020…

1. The Reading Agency (2019), Summer Reading Challenge Annual Report; Kennedy and Bearne (2009), Summer Reading Challenge Impact Research Report, UKLA; Chambers (2011), Tell Me: Children, Reading & Talk – with The Reading Environment (Thimble Press)

2. The Reading Agency (2019), Summer Reading Challenge Annual Report; The Reading Agency, Summer Reading Challenge 2020; Clark and Teravainen-Goff (2018), Mental wellbeing, reading and writing, National Literacy Trust

33. Renaissance Learning and Education Policy Institute (2021), Understanding progress in the 2020/21 academic year, DfE; Rose et al. (2021)

The Reading Agency Reveals Quick Reads Virtual Launch to Celebrate 15th Anniversary

The Reading Agency has announced a day of virtual celebrations to mark the 15th anniversary of Quick Reads and publication of this year’s titles, alongside a branding refresh for the life-changing adult literacy programme.

On Thursday 27 May, the festivities will begin at 2pm with the Quick Reads Lecture at Hay Festival, with ambassador Jojo Moyes in conversation with Oyinkan Braithwaite, who has written one of this year’s titles: The Baby is Mine. The two bestselling authors will discuss the importance of reading, how it changed their lives and how reading has the power to benefit the nation at such a vital time in our lives. Tickets for this event are free and can be booked on the Hay festival website here.

The 15th anniversary celebrations continue at 6pm with an event curated by The Reading Agency and hosted by CEO Karen Napier, showcasing the impact of this transformative programme tackling the adult literacy crisis. Launching the evening will be five of this year’s authors – Louise Candlish, Khurrum Rahman, Peter James, Katie Fforde and Oyinkan Braithwaite – chaired in conversation by Quick Reads Commissioning Editor Fanny Blake.

This will be followed by a panel of librarians and adult literacy practitioners sharing their experience of these short, impactful books: how they are used across the adult learning sector, why they are so important, and the ways in which these short stories by bestselling authors can change lives. Joining the panel is James Avison, Librarian at Tameside Libraries; Clare Canavan, Librarian at HMP Downview; Baljinder Bains, Librarian at Burton & South Derbyshire College; and David Reynolds, Quick Reads literacy editor and adult literacy teacher. The panel will be chaired by best-selling author and Reading Ahead ambassador Bali Rai.

Tickets for the Quick Reads 15th Anniversary Celebration are free and can be booked via Eventbrite:

Since launching in 2006, Quick Reads titles have been loaned out over 6 million times and over 5 million copies have been distributed with the generous support of publishers and donors. Last year, Quick Reads reached over 360,000 readers, via library issues, sold copies and publisher donations.

A reader survey found that Quick Reads have a significant impact on readers’ future engagement with reading for pleasure: 85% of respondents agreed that they would like to try another Quick Read after reading one of the titles; one-third (33%) said they would now like to read more often; almost half (49%) said that they would like to read another book by the same author and 37% said they planned to borrow more books from the library. Importantly, Quick Reads also had an impact on confidence and connectedness as one quarter of respondents (25%) reported that they would like to ‘try new things’ as a result of reading a Quick Read and one-third of respondents (32%) said that reading their Quick Read made them want to talk to others more about books and reading.

“I think it made me feel more confident. [It gave me] a break from my reality and knowing that it can change.” –Quick Reads survey respondent

The survey also gained an insight into the motivating factors that encouraged people to engage with Quick Reads. The vast majority (90%) of respondents said that relaxation was a key motivating factor for them when reading, making Quick Reads’ short length and accessible structure well-suited to engage these readers. Almost 2 in 3 respondents (64%) said that learning about the world and other people’s lives motivated them to read.

“I am in a supportive book club, where we all take turns in choosing the next read. following the death of my son there was a struggle to find a book that seemed right–not too difficult (I couldn’t concentrate on reading), too much death, a comedy!. A couple of really bland books were suggested in the early months that nobody really enjoyed but we wanted to stay connected. The Quick Reads allowed that, quick, easy to read, short and gentle books which we could talk about together and keep the group going …the quick reads allowed our group to…stay connected and that enabled deeper reads and conversations in the future.” –Quick Reads survey respondent

The full evaluation report of the 2020 Quick Reads programme will be published on The Reading Agency website next week.

Buy one, Gift one

This year, as The Reading Agency celebrates 15 years of the Quick Reads programme they will be able to get even more of these transformative books into the hands of those who struggle with reading or have limited access to books. Thanks to generous support from the six publishers a new ‘Buy one, gift one’ campaign will see every book bought from publication through to 31 July 2021 matched with a donated copy that The Reading Agency will distribute.

The Reading Agency has also revealed new streamlined branding for the Quick Reads programme, designed by illustrator Soofiya, which will be rolled out across the website, social media and in retailers (including Asda, Sainsbury’s, the Works and WH Smith) on publication. Downloadable posters and digital assets will be made available for libraries and independent bookshops.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency, said: “The impact from last year demonstrates the instrumental role that Quick Reads plays in encouraging adults to discover the joys of reading and to build long-lasting engagement. Sharing the proven power of reading with as many as people as possible is at the heart of what we do at The Reading Agency and we are thrilled that in Quick Reads 15th anniversary year, these life-changing and brilliant books will be available in more bookshops, libraries, prisons, colleges and adult learning centres than ever before. We are incredibly grateful to our publishing partners and extraordinary authors, and are looking forward to celebrating the 2021 launch at Hay Festival with the incomparable and inspiring Quick Reads Ambassador Jojo Moyes.”

Get Involved

Find out more about the Quick Reads programme, the 2021 titles and how to pre-order them.

Media contact at Midas: [email protected] | [email protected] | 07971 086649

Between the Covers returns for a second series

BBC Two’s Between the Covers is back for a second series on Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Starting on Monday 10 May, Between the Covers gives audiences everywhere the opportunity to take part in a nationwide TV book club.

Hosted by Sara Cox, each episode features two reviews; a big hitter book from the last year as well as a newly published book. Four celebrity guests will also each bring with them their favourite book of all time to share with the other guests.

Sara Cox says:

“I’m so thrilled the show is back – I can’t wait to welcome everyone to our TV book club again as we delve between the covers of some fantastic books with some of my most favourite, witty and wise people. You’ll need to clear a space on your bookshelf as we’re going to be recommending some absolute crackers.”

The reading list

Episode 1

  • Newly-published book: The Fine Art Of Invisible Detection by Robert Goddard
  • Big hitter: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Celebrity book club panel: Mel Giedroyc, Rick Edwards, Oti Mabuse and Griff Rhys-Jones

Find out more about the books featured in episode one.

Episode 2

  • Newly-published book: Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal
  • Big hitter: The Lying Life Of Adults by Elena Ferrante
  • Celebrity book club panel: Rachel Parris, Rick Stein, Vick Hope and Rob Delaney

Episode 3

  • Newly-published book: Sixteen Horses by Greg Buchanan
  • Big hitter: The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré
  • Celebrity book club panel: David Baddiel, Katherine Ryan, Adjoa Andoh and Phil Davis

Episode 4

  • Newly-published book: Another Life by Jodie Chapman
  • Big hitter: Agent Running In The Field by John le Carré
  • Celebrity book club panel: Don Warrington, Zoe Lyons, Hugh Dennis and Giovanna Fletcher

Episode 5

  • Newly-published book: The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward
  • Big hitter: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Celebrity book club panel: Nish Kumar, Stacey Dooley, Robert Webb and Caitlin Moran

Episode 6

  • Newly-published book: The Frequency Of Us by Keith Stuart
  • Big hitter: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
  • Celebrity book club panel: Ranvir Singh, Micky Flanagan, Sophie Willan and Reginald D Hunter

Get involved

Each week, we’ll be sharing information about each of the featured books, so keep an eye on Reading Groups for Everyone! You can also join in the conversation on social media using #BetweenTheCovers.

Between The Covers is the perfect activity for you reading group – you can all watch it and discuss the episode at your next group meeting. You might get inspiration for your next book choice! Why not use a WhatsApp group to chat about the show as it’s on?

Reading the International Booker Prize

At The Reading Agency, we love discovering exciting new reads from around the world; books can transport us to new places, introduce us to interesting people and different cultures. For many of us, reading books in translation is our way to find these stories, and our first place to go to choose our next read is the International Booker Prize.

The International Booker Prize honours the finest fiction in translation from around the world, and both author and translator are equally rewarded. This year’s longlist and shortlist are full of fascinating books, featuring books translated from languages including Spanish, Danish and Russian.

Are you reading, or planning to read, any of the books that have been chosen by the judges for this year’s longlist or shortlist? We’d love to hear from you!

Tell us about your reading, where you get your recommendations from and what you think in this short survey. We want to hear from everyone, whether you’ve read one book or all of them!

Create your own user feedback survey

Read, Talk, Share – Q&A with Natasha Devon

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May) we caught up with mental health campaigner, author and Read, Talk, Share ambassador Natasha Devon to chat about all things reading, libraries and mental health.

Why do you think reading matters?

Reading is one of the few activities which involves all of the senses joining together – It’s visual, because you are painting pictures in your mind based on the words you’re seeing or hearing; it’s auditory, because you hear the words you read in your own voice; and it’s kinaesthetic because when we imagine something really vividly we have physical responses (that’s why when we’re reading horror stories we scrunch up to protect our vital organs, or when we read about someone eating something yummy our mouths water). If you can get yourself in ‘the zone’, reading totally engages you and helps to give you respite from reality – I think a lot of us need that, especially right now!

What are you reading at the moment?

I always have two books on the go – One fiction and one non-fiction. I was lucky enough to be given an advance copy of Otto English’s ‘Fake History’, which is out in June and is excellent – There are so many myths and bits of hearsay that have somehow become cornerstones of British and western folklore and culture. We use them to convince ourselves we’re somehow ‘better’ than other nations and therefore prop up empire and a colonial mentality. We really need to ensure history is taught more accurately to avoid repeating our mistakes. And I’ve just finished the novel ‘Last Night’ by Mhairi McFarlane – She uses a really clever plot device – the best friend of the protagonist dies suddenly (this happens in chapter 2 so I’m not spoiling anything) and it’s about grief and loss but also never having closure, because you always assume there will be time to have conversations with the people you love. I love McFarlane’s style of writing – She uses incredibly evocative turns of phrase which are somehow both unique and instantly recognisable. There were so many moments in the novel where I thought ‘yes! I know exactly what she means but also no one has ever described it quite like that, before’.

How has reading helped your mental health?

I have an anxiety disorder and it peaks and troughs, so my choice of reading material differs depending on how much I am struggling. When my anxiety levels are relatively low, that’s when I love to read about mental health – authors like Bryony Gordon, Poorna Bell, Jonny Benjamin and Alex Holmes. That’s when my brain can compute and properly absorb what is being said, so I can tuck the pearls of wisdom away for when I inevitably need them in the future. When my anxiety levels are high, I try to indulge in ‘escapism’. I’ve really got into psychological thriller novels recently, for when I need a ‘page turner’.

Why do you love libraries?

There’s something really egalitarian about libraries – Anyone can use them to access knowledge. Personally, I find it really relaxing to be surrounded by books – the older and mustier the better! And I like that they’re quiet. Life can seem so loud, sometimes, it’s nice to have a guaranteed sanctuary.

What was the first book you borrowed from a library?

The first book I borrowed was from my primary school library when I was in infants and it was The Very Hungry Catapillar. I remember my teacher reading it to us and thinking the illustrations were very cool, but when I got the book home I was scared of them, for some reason!

What books would you recommend for anyone on the hunt for their next read?

There are too many good books in the world. That’s both a reason to celebrate and a burden because if I read everything I wanted to I wouldn’t get anything else done. Here are some great books I’ve read in the past 6 months:


  • Mixed/Other by Natalie Morris – Natalie, who is of mixed heritage herself, interviews 50 other mixed people about their experiences of growing up and living in Britain.
  • Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel – A short but important read about how Jews are often missed in conversations about marginalised/minority communities.
  • In The Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life compiled by Nigel Slater – A collection of thoughts from various authors on food/cooking and how it’s inextricably linked with life.


  • Girl A by Abigail Dean – A woman who escaped an abusive home as a child’s mother dies in jail. She is the executor of her mother’s will, meaning she has to find her six siblings, who are scattered all over the place, to settle the estate.
  • Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata – This is such an unusual novel and I can’t rationalise why it’s so brilliant, or really explain the plot. Just read it.
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid – A really nuanced and authentic exploration of racism and the many forms it takes, as told by a young black woman who is accused of kidnapping the white child she is babysitting.

Any tips for avoiding distractions when reading?

Turn off your phone notifications! This is a good tip for life, whether you’re reading or not. Tech is designed to be addictive and the notifications which pop up on our home screen induce a pavlovian response (i.e. you want to jump on your phone immediately and aren’t fully in control of that reaction). Social media can be a wonderful way to connect, be entertained and access information, but we should be checking in when we choose, not when our phones dictate.

On Tuesday 11th May Natasha will be joining mental health blogger and campaigner Claire Eastham for a free online event hosted by The Reading Agency in support of Mental Health Awareness. Claire has experienced 371 panic attacks (and counting) in the last seven years, so you could say she is a bit of an expert on panic. In this virtual event they will be talking about Natasha’s new book, F**k I Think I’m Dying, and discuss the practical ways people can manage feelings of panic as the country ‘opens up’ again following lockdown, and in all other aspects of life. Tickets are free and there will be a Q&A with Natasha and Claire at the end of the event. Find out more and register for your free ticket here.

Get Islington Reading – Book Gifting

To ensure that all families, children and young people can experience the joy of reading, The Reading Agency are working with their publishing partners on a programme to gift thousands of books this spring via schools, libraries and reading groups as part of Get Islington Reading.

We started in April with the distribution of family book boxes gifted by The Reading Agency and Islington Library Service. The initiative will result in 3,000 books being gifted to year 5 children and their families in our nine partner primary schools over a three-month period to thank them for all their hard work whilst schools and libraries have been closed. April’s box had a crafty science theme, May’s is full of wellbeing reading and activities and there’s a sports themed book box to look forward to in June. The book boxes provide great reading for all the family with a book for adults to enjoy and one for children to read and share. We hope that the contents will help keep children reading and enjoying books during year 5, and as they move towards year 6.

During Mental Health Awareness week (10th to the 16th of May), The Reading Agency will also be gifting Reading Well mental health collections to Islington public libraries through a government funded programme to tackle the impact of the pandemic on wellbeing. As part of this initiative, Reading Well for children and Reading Well for young people book collections will be available in all Get Islington Reading schools. The books have been recommended by leading health professionals, and the lists co-produced with children and families to help children and young people manage their wellbeing, deal with worries and cope with difficult life situations. Books will be available to borrow from public and school libraries.

The Reading Agency have also worked with Walker Books to gift 500 copies of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas to students in year 9 and 10 in our 3 Get Islington Reading Secondary Schools. The book is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winner. It focuses on a black teenager and her family after she is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend by a police officer. It was selected for BBC Radio 2 and has resulted in a blockbuster film. Get Islington Reading Leads in our secondary schools have told us that the Hate U Give is one of the most borrowed books in their school libraries and so we are delighted to be able to distribute this book to students within the schools.

We are also grateful to The Schools Library Association for the gift of their recently published book, Reading Science for Pleasure, a guide to encouraging engagement with science books in both primary and secondary schools. Co-authors Ruth Jarman and Joy Alexander utilise their 20 years of experience to support school staff with successfully promoting the many wonders of science, helping pupils find enjoyment in STEM related titles and discover the multitude of knowledge held within. We are pleased to provide this guide to all Get Islington Reading Leads in schools as a useful tool for teachers in helping students develop their curiosity, creativity and scientific connection with the world around them.

And finally, the Reading Agency have provided copies of The Midnight Library to London Borough of Islington’s Staff book club, spreading the joy of reading far and wide.

We would like to thank the following publishers for their support of the Get Islington Reading project:

Book Title Published by
Crafty Science DK
A Fresh Start The Orion Publishing Group
The Night Bus Hero Hachette Children’s Group
The Pocket Book of Happiness Trigger Publishing
Patina Knights Of
Ask a Footballer Quercus
Reading Well Collections Various
The Hate U Give Walker Books
Reading Science for Pleasure Schools Library Association
The Midnight Library Canongate

Quick Reads at Hay Festival 2021

This year we are delighted to be a part of the Hay Festival, which brings writers and readers together in hundreds of free interactive broadcasts live from Hay-on-Wye to the world from the 26th May to the 6th June.

Over 11 days, more than 200 acclaimed writers, global policy makers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators will take part, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction for all ages while interrogating some of the biggest issues of our time, from building a better world post-pandemic to tackling the compound crises of climate change, inequality, and challenges to truth and democracy…

This year the line-up includes great names like David Hockney, Graham Norton, Cressida Cowell, David Walliams, Quick Reads 2021 author Caitlin Moran and so many more.

Joining the exciting programme of events to celebrate Quick Reads’ 15th anniversary and the 2021 publication day will be ambassador Jojo Moyes and Quick Reads 2021 author Oyinkan Braithwaite. The two bestselling authors will be discussing the importance of reading, how it changed their lives and how reading has the power to benefit the nation at such a vital time in our lives. Join them online on Thursday 27 May 2021 at 2pm, you can register for the event here.

QR lecture-2.png

Quick Reads are short books written by bestselling authors that aim to encourage people who don’t read often or struggle with reading to discover the joy of books.

This year’s Quick Reads authors are Caitlin Moran, Katie Fforde, Khurrum Rahman, Louise Candlish, Oyinkan Braithwaite and Peter James. From dark domestic noir and compelling crime to family drama and feminist manifesto, the transformative titles publishing on 27 May 2021 are great reads showcasing the very best in contemporary writing. They are available for just £1 at bookshops and free to borrow from libraries, colleges, prisons, trade unions, hospitals and adult learning organisations across the UK. Find out where you can get your copies here.

Take a look at our case studies to see the impact that Quick Reads have on emergent readers and find out more about Hay Festival at their website

The Reading Agency

Join our mailing list

Get our newsletters to stay up to date with programme news, resources, news and more.

Back to Top