Road to Reading returns after helping 1 in 2 improve their reading focus last year

Two young women sit in a library laughing together holding copies of 'This Book Kills' and 'Game Over'

The Reading Agency today announced the return of its highly successful Road to Reading initiative as part of the annual World Book Night celebrations. Following its remarkable impact in 2023 when it helped 1 in 2 participants focus more on their reading and improve concentration, the Road to Reading aims to inspire even more people to make reading a regular habit this year.

Perfect for those who are looking for support to start a new habit, people who struggle to find the time, or readers who haven’t picked up a book in a while, the Road to Reading invites everyone to pledge to read every week for 30 minutes or more, for a 10-week period. Participants are invited to join in by signing up and logging their reading.

The Reading Agency hopes that reading lovers will help to sign people up to take part, supporting our mission to get the nation reading! Participants will receive:

  • Regular check-ins and support to establish a consistent reading routine.
  • Personalised reading recommendations tailored to their interests.
  • Support from a vibrant social media community of fellow readers.

The 2023 Road to Reading findings demonstrate the initiative’s significant impact. The Road to Reading supported readers to re-establish a reading habit, with 2 in 5 reporting that it helped them read for enjoyment and out of choice more than before. Most participants felt that they met their personal reading goals set at the start, whether that was reading more regularly, for longer, or exploring new genres through the reading recommendations provided.

By taking part in the Road to Reading:

  • 86% of participants reported feeling more relaxed, with many citing improved overall wellbeing.
  • 73% found added purpose and social connection through the initiative, with 37% feeling more connected by talking about reading in book clubs or with others.
  • 50% increased their confidence to try new things, exploring diverse genres, authors, and formats.

Almost all respondents to the final check-in said that they intended to keep up with their new reading habit going forward, with many setting new goals to read more or read different kinds of books.

“Reading does us all the power of good, but in our busy modern world it’s easy to lose sight of how life-changing this simple habit can be.” said Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency. “Last year’s Road to Reading was a game-changer, supporting thousands in dedicating time to reading and experiencing its numerous benefits, whether new readers or just those who’d fallen out of the habit. The high levels of engagement, personal impacts, and sustained reading habit changes we witnessed last year underscore the vital role Road to Reading plays in building a nation of readers this World Book Night.”

One participant said: “I managed to stick to my goal of 30 minutes a week and found that I was able to read more than this. Some days I was reading up to an hour as I was really enjoying the books I was reading. I suffer from dyslexia so am a bit of slow reader and have found the [Road To Reading] has really boosted my reading confidence.”

Another participant reported increased productivity, saying: “I’ve now got 20 minutes every morning set aside for reading and it’s not only increased my reading it’s also improved my day-to-day life as I feel better and more productive by starting my day the right way.”

To learn more about Road to Reading and sign up for this year’s programme, visit Join the journey and unlock the life-changing benefits of making reading a regular habit.

How To Get into Reading

In a world filled with distractions, finding the time and motivation to read can feel like a daunting task. However, the benefits of reading are proven – from reducing stress and improving your mental health to expanding your knowledge and imagination.

If you’re someone who has always wanted to get into reading but didn’t know where to start, you’re in the right place! Read our tips to unlock the joy of reading.

Photo of a hand pulling a book from a book shelf.

Understanding the Benefits of Reading

  • Studies have shown that those who read for pleasure have higher levels of self-esteem and a greater ability to cope with difficult situations. Reading for pleasure was also associated with better sleeping patterns. 1
  • Adults who read for just 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction.2
  • In 2021, we found that shorter format books provided emerging readers with a more accessible route into reading, whilst some lapsed and avid readers indicated that they found it easier to find time to pick up a Quick Read whilst juggling other responsibilities.
  • By reading just one Quick Read, 3 in 4 people report enjoying reading more and said they’d like to read more often, whilst 1 in 3 feel more confident about reading and felt they were a better reader as a result. 3
  • Read more about the benefits of reading here.

Creating a Reading Routine

  • Start small by setting achievable reading goals, such as reading for 10 minutes a day or finishing one short book per month.
  • Track your progress with a book tracking app such as The StoryGraph
  • Find a time and place that works best for you to read consistently, whether it’s during your morning commute or before bed.
  • Incorporate reading into your daily routine by replacing screen time with a good book.
  • Audiobooks can be an ideal route into reading, particularly if you find it difficult to focus on words on a page, or are looking for something to listen to while doing other things. Podcast fans, audiobooks are for you!
  • Set some time aside this World Book Day for our annual #ReadingHour. You can read a print book, e-book, or listen to an audiobook. It doesn’t matter what, how, or where you read, as long as you enjoy it.
    Find out more here

Choosing the Right Books

  • Getting book recommendations from social media, YouTube, book tracking apps or from your friends can help you find books you love and get you excited about your next reads.
  • Experiment with different genres and authors to discover what resonates with you.
  • Quick Reads are a great place to start. Because they’re short, you can try lots of different genres and authors to find what fits you best. From thrillers, to contemporary romance, to literary fiction, we have a wide range of Quick Reads to suit everybody.
    Browse our Quick Reads here.
  • You can also find your next read from our selection of booklists – from books about sport to LGBTQ+ stories.
    Explore our booklists here.
  • Libraries are a great place to get reading recommendations. Browse the shelves or ask your librarian for their ideas. Find your local library here.

Share your reading with others

  • Joining book clubs or online reading communities is a great way to connect with other readers, share recommendations and stay motivated.
  • We know that reading groups and book clubs are a great way to make friends, feel connected and empowered to try books you’d never have come across otherwise. 94% of people asked read more widely and felt more connected to others thanks to their reading group.
    Read more about the benefits of reading groups here
Photo of a person reading an e-reader on a bench outside.

Beginning your reading journey is not just about reading a book – it’s about discovering new worlds, perspectives, and possibilities. Since 2006, over 5.3 million Quick Reads have been distributed, with over 6.14 million loaned from public libraries.

So why not join other readers and unlock the joy of reading today.

  1. [Billington, J, (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads, University of Liverpool]  ↩︎
  2. Billington, J, (2015) Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Quick Reads, University of Liverpool p. 7]  ↩︎
  3. The Reading Agency (2022) Quick Reads Evaluation Report 2021-22  ↩︎

The Booker Prizes Announce the International Booker Prize 2024 Shortlist

Today, Tuesday 9 April, the 2024 shortlist for the International Booker Prize, the world’s most significant award for a single work of translated fiction, is announced.

Featuring titles that ‘interweave the intimate and political in radically original ways’, the list introduces readers to the best novels and short story collections from around the world that have been translated into English and published in the UK and/or Ireland.

The shortlist

  • Not a River by Selva Almada, translated from Spanish by Annie McDermott
  • Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from German by Michael Hofmann
  • The Details by Ia Genberg, translated from Swedish by Kira Josefsson
  • Mater 2-10 by Hwang Sok-yong, translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell and Youngjae Josephine Bae
  • What I’d Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma, translated from Dutch by Sarah Timmer Harvey
  • Crooked Plow by Itamar Vieira Junior, translated from Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz

The 2024 shortlist features books translated from six original languages, (Dutch, German, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish from six countries (Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, South Korea and Sweden).

The judges

The six books on the shortlist have been chosen by the 2024 judging panel: broadcaster and journalist Eleanor Wachtel as chair; award-winning poet Natalie Diaz; Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Romesh Gunesekera; ground-breaking visual artist William Kentridge; and writer, editor and translator Aaron Robertson.

Eleanor Wachtel, International Booker Prize 2024 Chair of judges, says:

Reading is a necessary enlargement of human experience. Why be confined to one perspective, one life? Novels carry us to places where we might never set foot and connect us with new sensations and memories. Our shortlist opens onto vast geographies of the mind, often showing lives lived against the backdrop of history or, more precisely, interweaving the intimate and the political in radically original ways.

The thing about great writing is that it’s implicitly optimistic. From Selva Almada’s economical evocation of foreboding and danger in a remote corner of Argentina, Not a River, to Kairos, Jenny Erpenbeck’s intense, rich drama about the entanglement of personal and national transformations during the dying years of East Germany, words have the power to make connections and inhabit other sensibilities – to illuminate.

The International Booker Prize 2024 ceremony will take place from 7pm on Tuesday, 21 May. It is being held for the first time in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern. Highlights from the event, including the announcement of the winning book for 2024, will be livestreamed on the Booker Prizes’ channels, presented by YouTuber Jack Edwards, who is known as the ‘internet’s resident librarian’.

The prize recognises the vital work of translators with the £50,000 prize money divided equally: £25,000 for the author and £25,000 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators). In addition, there is a prize of £5,000 for each of the shortlisted titles: £2,500 for the author and £2,500 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators).

For more information, visit the Booker Prizes website.

Get involved

If you work in a library or workplace and would like to promote the shortlist, you can download a free digital pack from our shop.

What do you think of the 2024 shortlisted titles? Which have you read and what will be added to your TBR pile? Add your comments below, or click any title above to leave a review.

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using

Keep up with all the latest news on the Booker Prizes website.

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The Reading Agency and Manchester Libraries team up with CBBC for the Blue Peter Book Club Live

Blue Peter presenter, Abi, lies across an armchair in a green garden holding a book and smiling. She wears a pink t shirt, pink trainers and black dungarees.

Blue Peter, the world’s longest running kids TV show, is partnering with The Reading Agency and Manchester Libraries on an exciting new initiative called Blue Peter Book Club Live. This ambitious project aims to inspire a love of reading and creativity in primary school-aged children across Greater Manchester and throughout the UK.

Blue Peter Book Club Live will engage young readers through a multi-faceted approach involving free activities and events both in and outside of traditional reading spaces. There will be a large-scale Blue Peter Book Club Live event at Manchester Central Library on Saturday 18th  May featuring Blue Peter presenters, authors from the Book Club including Eve Ainsworth and Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho plus a book-inspired art-installation created by 10,000 local school children. Other highlights include a Blue Peter Book Club Live Badge Trail, which will take families to cultural venues across Manchester withactivities themed around the 12 Blue Peter Book Club titles.

Children will also be able to discover the Blue Peter Book Club booklist in unexpected settings as part of a series of “Book Hunt” events in Manchester parks and open spaces. Across the nation, libraries and schools will be able to participate in Blue Peter Book Club Live using activity packs and reading resources developed by The Reading Agency to create a nationwide celebration.

The Blue Peter Book Club introduces young readers to new writing and encourage a love of reading. In partnership with The Reading Agency an expert panel of librarians, booksellers and children in library sessions, chose a list of Blue Peter Book Club recommended reads from awesome authors and fantastic illustrators. Its next six titles are:

  • Greenwild: The World Behind The Door by Pari Thomson, Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • The Last Firefox by by Lee Newbery, Illustrated by Laura Catalán (Puffin, Penguin Random House Children’s)
  • The Breakfast Club Adventures: The Beast Beyond the Fence by Marcus Rashford written with Alex Falase-Koya, Illustrated by Marta Kissi (Macmillan Children’s Books, Pan Macmillan)
  • You Are History: From the Alarm Clock to the Toilet, the Amazing History of the Things You Use Every Day by Greg Jenner Illustrated by Jenny Taylor (Walker Books, 2022)
  • Major and Mynah by Karen Owen, Illustrated by Louise Forshaw (Firefly Press)
  • Bob vs The Selfie Zombies by Andy Jones, Illustrated by Robin Boyden (Piccadilly Press, Bonnier Books)
Six book jackets: Greenwild, Major and Mynah, Breakfast Club Adventures, Bob vs. The Selfie Zombies and You Are History on a blue background with heart and start sketches and the Blue Peter Book Club logo in the middle.

Blue Peter Book Club Live will have a major presence on broadcast and digital. A special episode Blue Peter Book Club Live will be shown on CBBC and iPlayer, 5pm, Friday 24th May from Media City UK with authors and local school children taking part.  Working in collaboration with BBC Arts, Blue Peter will also produce book review content, animations, digital games and more.  While to support young readers learning at home and in the classroom, the Blue Peter Book Club is supported by curriculum resources from BBC Bitesize.

Blue Peter Book Club Live will take place into Summer 2024 with a series of pop-up events at libraries and schools across the UK. More details can be found on the Library Live website.

The Blue Peter Big Read is supported with an award of £99,385 through Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants programme.

We’re thrilled to harness the power of the Blue Peter brand to inspire children to read for pleasure. By meeting them in their communities through our partnership with Manchester Libraries and The Reading Agency’s nationwide reach, we aim to make reading feel fun, accessible and relevant to all kids.

Sarah Muller, Senior Head of Commissioning 7+

This initiative is a wonderful opportunity to connect families with the vital resources of their local libraries. The Blue Peter Book Club’s diverse and accessible booklist, created with The Reading Agency, ensures that all children can see themselves represented and participate.

Karen Napier MBE, CEO, The Reading Agency

We are delighted to work alongside our partners to bring such an exciting reading event to the city.  We know that reading is a joyous experience and getting young Mancunians engaged, excited and inspired by books now is really important to us as it will engender a love of reading that continues to grow throughout their lives.  And what better place to launch such a wonderful initiative as the much-loved and celebrated Manchester Central Library.

Neil Mac Innes OBE, Manchester City Council’s Head of Service, Libraries, Galleries, Culture and Youth

Enabling children and young people to enjoy creative and culture experiences is a priority for the Arts Council and The Blue Peter Book Club Live is a great opportunity for them to discover the joy of reading in their local community. I’m pleased that we are supporting the project through our National Lottery Project Grants programme to fund some exciting activities for families across Manchester and I’m really looking forward to attending the celebration event at Manchester Central Library.

Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England

Publishers invited to The Reading Agency Insights events to tackle big health challenges through reading

The Reading Agency is hosting a series of free online events for publishers, sharing insights and data from ten years of Reading Well book selection and co-production work. The sessions will demonstrate the power of books and reading to support health and wellbeing, offering new insights to add value to health publishing.

Launching on 30 April, the first of three Reading Agency Insights events will provide publishers with crucial consumer data, learning and expertise to help address the current UK health challenges. The series is part of a wider Reading Well development programme funded by Arts Council England.

Mental health services in England received a record 4.6 million referrals during 2022, up 22% from 2019 according to the BMA. Children and young people’s mental health is in crisis, with over 1.4m children estimated to have a mental health disorder (The King’s Fund).  Publishers, reading, and libraries are part of the solution, adding value to health service provision by building public understanding and confidence in health management through quality-assured, authentic and helpful reading; 81% of people surveyed say their Reading Well book helped them to understand more about their health needs.

The first online event will feature contributions from leading experts Professor Martin Marshall CBE, Chair of the Nuffield Trust, and former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, as well as NHS GP and media personality, Dr Radha Modgil. Attendees will hear new data about reader needs, evidence on what works best in publishing, and what makes health information books more accessible and inclusive. With over ten years of consumer insight data to draw on, The Reading Agency will also share knowledge about gaps in health publishing linked to unmet reader need, along with reader insights on books with strong themes relating to mental and physical health, including fiction titles and memoirs. Future events in the series will focus on children’s and adult mental health and dementia.

“This events series provides a unique opportunity for publishers to access crucial data and insights direct from readers and experts. Working together, we can ensure books meet the needs of readers facing health challenges and help tackle the current crisis.”

Following the first event in April, two further events will take place in June focusing specifically on children’s and adult mental health.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency

All publishers are invited to attend. To register:

  • The Reading Agency Insights: Tackling Big Health Challenges Together, 30th April, 12.30pm – 1.30pm Book your space 
  • The Reading Agency Insights: Supporting Young Minds, 5th June 12.30pm – 1.30pm Book your space  
  • The Reading Agency Insights: Improving Adult Health, 25th June 12.30pm – 1.30pm Book your space  

The Summer Reading Challenge’s ‘Marvellous Makers’ theme celebrates children’s creativity 

Graphic with illustrated children on grass. Text reads: Summer Reading Challenge 2024 delivered in partnership with libraries - Marvellous Makers.

The Reading Agency is excited to announce the theme for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge: Marvellous Makers! Developed in partnership with Create, a leading charity bringing the creative arts to those who need it most, this year’s Challenge aims to fire up children’s imaginations and unleash storytelling and creativity through the power of reading.  

The annual Challenge is delivered in partnership with public libraries, and it’s free to take part. From June to September, children taking part in ‘Marvellous Makers’ can discover new stories, join in with free activities at the library, and explore their creativity – from junk modelling to music, dance to drawing and painting. 

This year’s bespoke illustrations are created by Natelle Quek, celebrated illustrator of titles including Wild Wild Wood (Puffin Books) and I Am Nefertiti (Five Quills). Taking place in libraries and online, the Summer Reading Challenge provides the perfect opportunity for active minds to explore, imagine, and create in a supportive and engaging environment. 

Reading sparks imagination and creativity, helping to expose children to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences that fire up their minds. The Summer Reading Challenge aims to harness these creative thinking skills and build confidence in young readers during the school holiday when they aren’t in the classroom. Participation encourages children to read for pleasure, with books providing knowledge and giving children the tools and confidence to think originally, play with concepts, and express their creativity in unique ways. 

This year’s ‘Marvellous Makers’ theme will inspire children’s inner storytellers, motivating them to be curious and to tell their own stories through various creative outlets. The partnership with Create aims to allow children to understand and appreciate creativity through reading. The partnership will provide a range of exciting activities and resources that bring reading and creativity together, empowering children to become ‘Marvellous Makers’ themselves.  

“The Summer Reading Challenge is all about inspiring children’s creativity and imagination through reading. Developed in partnership with the fantastic charity Create, this year’s theme will spark children’s inner storytellers and makers. Reading fires up young minds, and we’re thrilled to provide a fun, engaging environment for children to explore new ideas and perspectives through books and creative activities over the summer holidays. We are delighted to be working with Blue Peter to encourage even more children to take part this year.”

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency

“This year’s Summer Reading Challenge is a fantastic opportunity to bring creativity to young people across the country. People need to create, and everyone deserves access to the life-enhancing power of the creative arts. ‘Marvellous Makers’ brilliantly combines the joy of reading and the wonder of creativity, providing young people with new opportunities to express themselves. We couldn’t be more excited to be part of it.” 

Nicky Goulder, Founding CEO of Create

Blue Peter will also be encouraging primary school children across the UK to join this year’s Summer Reading challenge on CBBC and iPlayer with creative activities and features from the Blue Peter Book Club. 

The Summer Reading Challenge launches on 22 June in Scotland and online and 6 July in England and Wales.  

The Booker Prizes Announce the International Booker Prize 2024 longlist

Today, 11 March, the 2024 longlist for the International Booker Prize, the world’s most significant award for a single work of translated fiction, is announced.

Featuring “books that speak of courage and kindness, of the vital importance of community, and of the effects of standing up to tyranny’” according to Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the International Booker Prize, the list introduces readers to the best novels and short story collections from around the world that have been translated into English and published in the UK and/or Ireland.

The longlist

  • Not a River by Selva Almada, translated from Spanish by Annie McDermott
  • Simpatía by Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, translated from Spanish by Noel Hernández González and Daniel Hahn
  • Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from German by Michael Hofmann
  • The Details by Ia Genberg, translated from Swedish by Kira Josefsson
  • White Nights by Urszula Honek, translated from Polish by Kate Webster
  • Mater 2-10 by Hwang Sok-yong, translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell and Youngjae Josephine Bae
  • A Dictator Calls by Ismail Kadare, translated from Albanian by John Hodgson
  • The Silver Bone: The Kyiv Mysteries by Andrey Kurkov, translated from Russian by Boris Dralyuk
  • What I’d Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma, translated from Dutch by Sarah Timmer Harvey
  • Lost on Me by Veronica Raimo, translated from Italian by Leah Janeczko
  • The House on Via Gemito by Domenico Starnone, translated from Italian by Oonagh Stransky
  • Crooked Plow by Itamar Vieira Junior, translated from Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz
  • Undiscovered by Gabriela Wiener, translated from Spanish by Julia Sanches

The 2024 longlist features books translated from ten original languages: Albanian, Dutch, German, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish including four books written by South American authors, with books representing Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela. While some authors and their books might be unfamiliar to English-speaking readers, many are considered to be their respective countries’ greatest living writers

A variety of fictional forms are represented on this year’s longlist: from magical realism to autofiction, from allegory to short stories, from books that span multiple generations to one constructed around a three-minute conversation. Several titles are rooted in family life, from the relationship between fathers and sons to daughters and mothers, from separated twins to orphanhood.

The judges

The 13 books on the longlist have been chosen by the 2024 judging panel: broadcaster and journalist Eleanor Wachtel as chair; award-winning poet Natalie Diaz; Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Romesh Gunesekera; groundbreaking visual artist William Kentridge; and writer, editor and translator Aaron Robertson.

Eleanor Wachtel, International Booker Prize 2024 Chair of judges, says:

From a protest on the top of a factory chimney in South Korea to a transformative fishing trip in remote Argentina, from the violent streets of Kyiv in 1919 to a devastating sexual relationship in 1980s East Berlin, our longlisted books offer stunning evocations of place and time. Here are voices that reflect original angles of observation. In compelling, at times lyrical modes of expression, they tell stories that give us insight into – among other things – the ways political power drives our lives.

What my fellow jurors and I hoped to find are books that, together, we could recommend to English-speaking readers. After narrowing down 149 submitted titles to these 13, we are delighted to say, “Here, we’ve scoured the world and brought back these gifts.

The six books shortlisted for this year’s prize will be announced on Tuesday, 9 April, 2024. The announcement of the winning book for 2024 will take place at a ceremony in London on Tuesday, 21 May, 2024, which will be livestreamed.

The prize recognises the vital work of translators with the £50,000 prize money divided equally: £25,000 for the author and £25,000 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators). In addition, there is a prize of £5,000 for each of the shortlisted titles: £2,500 for the author and £2,500 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators).

For more information, visit the Booker Prizes website.

The International Booker Prize 2024 Reading Challenge

This year to coincide with the longlist, the prize is launching a new Reading Challenge to encourage readers to explore the 2024 longlist, share their thoughts, and connect with readers from around the world.

The prize is looking for three librarians from the UK and Ireland who are passionate about translated fiction to become Reading Challenge Ambassadors to read as many longlisted titles as they can ahead of the winner announcement on 21 May. The Ambassadors will be featured on the Booker Prizes and The Reading Agency’s channels, and have the chance to win tickets to the International Booker Prize 2024 ceremony.

Find out more and apply today.

Librarians can also pick up a free POS pack to celebrate the Reading Challenge in their libraries from our shop.

Get involved

If you work in a library or workplace and would like to promote the longlist, you can download a free digital pack from our shop.

What do you think of the 2024 longlisted titles? Which have you read and what will be added to your TBR pile? Add your comments below, or click any title above to leave a review.

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using

Keep up with all the latest news on the Booker Prizes website.

Want to make sure you never miss the latest reading group news? Sign up for our free monthly newsletter.

Reading Friends uncovers the power of inclusive reading at Portsmouth Libraries

Portsmouth Libraries have been hosting Reading Friends sessions in their branches since 2021. In the last year, they helped 1,492 people to connect with each other over 1,588 times in a variety of one to one and group Reading Friends sessions.

In 2023, Portsmouth Libraries were successful in their application to The Reading Agency to receive funding as part of an Ulverscroft Foundation funded project, allowing them to develop their current Reading Friends offer to people living with a vision impairment.

Services available for people who are blind and partially sighted

Portsmouth Libraries offer resources to people experiencing sight loss and deterioration including large print books, talking books and e-audio books, as well as a newsletter which is available in large print, email, audio and braille. They also offer a wide range of vision impairment services, including a telephone advice line, braille services (including a transcription service, Braille tuition, a Kurzweil text to Braille translator and a Braille printer), computer training alongside reading groups – including talks, demonstrations, signposting and discussion groups on books hosted on MP3s.

We spoke to Julie Duffy, Visual Impairment Officer and Claire Liddell, Service Development Manager, at Portsmouth Libraries to understand the difference attending one of these Reading Friends sessions can make. Their feedback has been summarised below.  

As part of her role, Julie Duffy offers braille translations to library members and visitors, manages the newsletter for people who are blind and partially sighted, supports with computer training and leads Reading Friends groups. The groups offer participants the chance to read and discuss books provided in CD or MP3 format.

Julie is also registered as blind, which she explains plays a large part in not only being able to empathise with people who are blind and partially sighted, but also in forming relationships built on trust with the people she works with. As part of Reading Friends, the group sessions offer a regular time and space for members to form connections with Julie and each other.

“People often say to me: ‘when I get depressed about my sight, I think about you. And then I think, you know, I can do it.’ And that’s very humbling.”

“I understand that loss of independence. For example, for people who drive, it’s a real issue. Then there’s reading books, that’s the other issue. I had one chap, who was seriously depressed, and I got him involved in the computer service. He had had poor sight all his life and he pretended that he hadn’t, which is a very common thing for people to do. When I taught him Braille and we read through a book, he said to me that’s the first time I’ve ever read a book in my life. He was 40 years old.”

Providing individualised social and emotional support

Julie explained that what people find most helpful can be social or emotional support, information on how to manage specific aspects of daily life, resources or signposting. The Reading Friends groups offer a space for staff and volunteers to get to know and learn about individual members, for members to form connections based on shared experiences and to feel supported with any barriers they might experience on a day-to-day basis.

“Sometimes people don’t know how to manage things, but when there’s other people there, they don’t feel so alone and they can chat about how other people manage things.”

Sight loss or degeneration can have a huge impact, and Portsmouth Libraries ensure that they are able to provide the appropriate level of support by embedding training in their service, supporting volunteers, providing emotional support and signposting to specialist services where relevant.

“We offer visual impairment training, so that staff are aware of how they’ve got to help people to get around.”

Both Julie Duffy and Clare Liddell pointed to the need for public libraries offering services to people who are blind and partially sighted to understand the needs of their audiences, the distress that some people may experience and how to support them.

“Any library authority needs to be ready for these kinds of communications when working with people with visual impairment.”

Consulting with people with lived experience

Portsmouth Libraries consult with audiences who experience sight loss and degeneration to understand more about the people they work with.

“We ask the groups what they want. We have Social Services, the sensory team and the hospital referring us to people. Then we ask the individuals for their opinion and what they find helpful. It’s about dialogue.”

Julie Duffy is also responsible for building several relationships with other local organisations and Portsmouth City Council, who come to Portsmouth Libraries and speak with the members of her groups to better be able to service their needs. Julie explained that once she had initiated conversations, local organisations were usually very responsive and would notify her and the groups of any planned works or changes that might impact their day-to-day living.

“It’s quite well known within the city council that if they’re doing new schemes and things such as road closures or whatever they come and talk to us about it.”

Developing and extending activities

During 2023 to 2024, Portsmouth Libraries are using the Ulverscroft Foundation funding to develop their offer. They plan to source further stock for people who are blind and partially sighted, including new spoken word and large print titles, create and promote uptake of a new Reading Friends group located in the north of Portsmouth and develop a programme of events for the groups, including author visits.

“Hopefully, we will be able to get people out of their homes because, since Covid, people have been scared to come out and it’s giving them a reason to do so.”

Read more about the impact of Reading Friends across the UK here
(image shows Julie with her service dog, Spencer)

Teachers Reading Challenge 2022: living and breathing reading in South Ayshire

Photo of three children reading a book. The middle child is wearing school uniform.

In January 2023, The Reading Agency spoke to Ashley G., a primary teacher working with P6/7 pupils in South Ayrshire about her experience of taking part in the Teachers’ Reading Challenge. Ashley G. took part in both 2021 and 2022, reading well over the number of books she had set herself to read and gaining two silver badges in both years of the Challenge. We spoke to Ashley about how she translated her own love of reading into pedagogical practice, expanded her knowledge of children’s and young people’s texts and embedded reading for pleasure across her whole school as a result of taking part in the Challenge.

Although always having been an avid reader, Ashley explained that translating this into her own work with children only truly became a priority following her discovery of the Teachers’ Reading Challenge.

‘This has been a game changer for me as a teacher. This led me to research Reading for Pleasure, book training sessions on it and complete the Open University badged course. All of this sparked something in me and I’ve spent the last year working on initiatives in school to promote a Reading for Pleasure culture and reading a ridiculous number of children’s books!’

Since first taking part in 2021, Ashley has embedded a variety of initiatives in her school aimed at engaging children in reading for pleasure. These include taking the children to the mobile library every month (when it is scheduled to visit the village) and liaising with South Ayrshire Library Services to provide every child with a mobile library ticket and access to ebooks and audiobooks through the Libby app (online library service).

‘The children can access Libby at school and at home and it is now a well-used and well-loved resource. Access to Libby has also helped to tackle barriers to reading for some of our pupils who were experiencing difficulty reading books at their interest level and were being put off reading by this. Furthermore, for pupils where they don’t have access to a lot of books at home (as long as they have access to a technological device at home eg. phone, tablet, laptop) this free app provides an opportunity for them to read or listen to a wide selection of modern children’s books at home without cost implications for parents which is so important. Money should never be a barrier to children’s reading, and I feel this is even more important currently given the cost-of-living crisis we are all experiencing.’

Another initiative is running a Reading for Pleasure session for the whole school every Friday afternoon, where students can read in a quiet room or participate in shared reading and book talk with their peers. The school has also hosted family ‘Booknic’ events inviting parents, carers and other family members into the school to read together, building an awareness amongst children and young people of reading as something that everyone can take part in and enjoy, both at home, at school and elsewhere.

‘Engaging the children in school has been going well as it’s a small school and because they get the enthusiasm from staff they are all responding well, even children who are reluctant readers.  Engaging families can be more difficult as we appreciate time demands on parents can make it difficult for them to find time to read with their children.  We invited them in for a Booknic back in October which was well attended and received positive feedback from parents and we ran one again the week of World Book Day.  In our infant class we have just started sending home a RfP [Reading for Pleasure] bookbag for the weekend with a little hot chocolate and mini marshmallow pack and requesting a little photo uploaded to Seesaw with potentially a little review of the book/books or their child’s thoughts on it and we will monitor engagement of this. (…)  Next step I’d like to explore inviting parents to come when the mobile library is at the school to choose a book with their child.’

By expanding her knowledge and reading more of the recently published and trending literature that pupils were interested in themselves, Ashley was better able to engage in book talk and was more confident in recommending texts to pupils. As part of a broader approach to diversifying both hers and others’ knowledge of children’s and young people’s texts, Ashley has also started an Open University Teachers’ Reading Group in South Ayrshire, got the school involved in a Diversifying Reading project with Oxford University Press and joined a Racial Literacy Working Group.

‘I adored reading as a child and when I had my own children I wanted them to have that same love of reading but as they grew older and we moved on to reading chapter books I would choose books I had enjoyed reading at their age and came to realise they just weren’t enjoying them as much as I had. So I knew I had to do some research to ensure they maintained their love of reading. That was why when I saw the Teachers’ Summer Reading Challenge I signed up straight away. I also joined Twitter and started following accounts suggested for children’s literature (which I would highly recommend), visited libraries and charity shops and sourced different types of books from different authors and with a variety of characters.(…) I now feel really confident recommending books to pupils throughout the school and they often read the same ones I have and we chat about them. Class novel choices have also been improved due to my knowledge of current authors and the children have really engaged in the books they’ve chosen from my selection.’

When asked about the best new title she had discovered as part of the Challenge and why it resonated, Ashley selected two texts with main characters that reflected different life experiences, pointing to the importance of representation within children and young people’s literature.

‘Amari and the Night Brothers’ because it’s an exciting, fantasy adventure book where the main character is a black girl. So often in this genre the girl is a side character, but instead here was a great female main character which was so refreshing. Also, although it’s a small village school I work in we have a very diverse pupil group and I loved the fact this book included a wide variety of characters with good representation of other ethnicities. This book and its sequel ‘Amari and the Great Game’ have been so popular in my class and we’re now eagerly awaiting the third book which is due to be published in September this year.’

‘Another was Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe, as the main character had eczema. I would have loved to have read a book that featured a character with eczema when I was growing up as I suffered quite badly with eczema myself. Most of the years I was in primary school I was admitted to hospital for a week or so to get it back under control.  So I feel this book would have been comforting for my younger self to have read, and it would have been helpful for educating other children on eczema. I always felt really aware of how my skin looked to others at school and (like in the book) some children were nasty about it.’

Ashley also told us about how the Teachers’ Reading Challenge had informed her work with pupils with different reading levels, providing her with the confidence and the resources through which to engage more reluctant readers.

‘One pupil told me that I wouldn’t be able to find books they would enjoy, but I managed eventually. The first I found that he enjoyed was ‘The Humiliations of Welton Blake’ by Alex Wheatle and that then gave me an idea of the types of books he was likely to enjoy. I researched websites for recommendations ‘if you liked this book/author you might enjoy…’ and I took to Twitter asking for recommendations from others too. Eventually I came across Anthony McGowan’s ‘The Truth of Things’ (which includes three novellas). I ordered my own copy, read it and gave him my copy. The student has now read all three novellas, followed it up with the fourth instalment ‘Lark’ and has recommended them to another student in my class who has now also read all three novellas and is currently reading ‘Lark’. I have now sourced similar novels by a different author for them to try to ensure I maintain their current level of enthusiasm.’

‘Other more reluctant readers have really enjoyed the ‘Dog Man’ series and ‘The Bad Guys’ series we recently purchased for our school library. One pupil in particular has really engaged with graphic novels and has read every book we have in these series and researched to find out if there were any more she hasn’t read yet for us to purchase. She has also enjoyed the ‘Smile, Sisters and Guts’ set by Raina Telgemeier and is currently enjoying ‘When Stars are Scattered’ by Victoria Jamieson (on my recommendation). She now feels so passionate about reading she takes books out to the playground, constantly requests more daily reading time and has shared her book recommendations in whole school assemblies (at her request!).’

For other professionals working in the education and literacy sectors who might be feeling uninspired, Ashley recommended reading up on new and relevant texts through Twitter, signing up for The Open University’s newsletter (which often details relevant free training and webinars), joining one of the Open University’s Teachers’ Reading Groups (TRG), joining the Teachers’ Summer Reading Challenge and reading and logging as many books as possible. Ultimately though, Ashley explained that engaging children in reading hinged on being a reading role model herself – translating her love of reading into the classroom:

‘By expanding your knowledge of children and young people’s literature you’ll gain the confidence to do this (…) It’s really helped my pupils knowing how much I love reading. We’re a small school, with about 70 pupils, and I’ve taught the vast majority of the pupils at this point (…) There are two Mrs G’s at my school and they refer to me as Mrs G. the book teacher! They know I live and breathe reading and many of them are beginning to do so too.’

When asked about future plans, Ashley explained she would be taking part in the Teachers’ Reading Challenge in 2023 and was already exploring ideas for examples of pedagogical practice to submit to The Open University so as to gain her Gold badge.

A statement on Reading Well for teens

A new Reading Well for teens collection launched in public libraries in England and Wales on World Mental Health Day 2022 (10th October). The scheme supports the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers aged 13 to 19 years old, providing information, advice and support to help them better understand their feelings, handle difficult experiences and boost confidence in a post-pandemic context.

The list of published titles has been created through a rigorous selection process with health experts including clinicians, experts in the field, partners from across the sector and has been co-produced with teenagers aged 13 to 19 years old, ensuring that it speaks authentically to the needs and interests of users. It features 27 books and a wide array of supporting digital resources, covering a broad range of topics such as wellbeing, anxiety, depression, body image, neurodiversity, bereavement, sexuality and gender identity, all within the wider context of mental health and wellbeing. These were all topics that were mapped against prevalence and identified by teenagers as being important to include. The books can be recommended and selected according to need and choice.

The book selection panel included representation from accredited organisations and professionals including the creator of Book Prescription Wales, NHS England, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of GPs, British Psychological Society, Royal College of Nursing and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Leading mental health charities, including Mind and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, library staff and government departments were also represented on the panel.

Reading Well for teens is a multi-faceted list curated to address a number of topics and cater to a broad audience; a list which has been created by young people and health professionals to address areas of experience where there is proven need. The Reading Agency’s primary commitment is to supporting teens’ mental health and wellbeing, in line with our core ethos of tackling life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. This goal is supported by the clinicians who helped select the titles, with the list chosen to reflect the range of challenges young people face.

Additional information on our book selection protocol and our book selection framework can be found online. Read more about Reading Well for teens.

The Reading Agency

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