• Children set to read more than sixteen million books over the summer
• Theme of kindness takes a front seat as children navigate news headlines
• Dermot O'Leary supports Challenge in bid to turn Brit kids into bookworms
The Reading Agency, the national charity inspiring people to read for pleasure and wellbeing, is advising libraries to brace for a book loan boom as three-quarters of a million kids embark on this year's Summer Reading Challenge, which launches this week.
The charity, which runs the annual Challenge in partnership with libraries, predicts that children will read sixteen million books over the summer break. This year's theme, Animal Agents, is illustrated by Tony Ross, the UK's best-selling children's illustrator, and will see kids reading to reveal clues to help them crack a case in the library.
Aiming to inspire children to read for pleasure, the free programme - available in 98% of libraries across England, Scotland and Wales - encourages children aged four to eleven to read at least six library books over the summer. Free access to books at the library is combined with fun social activities and a website where they can review the books they've read and unlock prizes.
Themes of empathy and kindness
Among the favourites this year, The Reading Agency believes stories that explore themes of kindness will take a front seat, as parents and carers try to help children make sense of difficult events that have dominated the news headlines this year. Several books that bring themes of friendship and inclusion together with the animal theme are included in this year's booklist.
Such titles include Can I Join Your Club?, by John Kelly and Steph Laberis, which is a tale about a duck who wants to join a club but no one will let him join in. Mercy the Hippo, by Lauren St. John and Nila Aye, is about a girl whose friendship with a hippo is initially frowned upon by her family and friends.
"Reading helps us understand different perspectives"
The Reading Agency CEO, Sue Wilkinson says:
"Books are a companion through life's ups and downs. While reading cannot solve the complex problems that we face at the moment, it does help us to reach across countries and cultures, to understand and value different perspectives and develop empathy for others.
"Developing these skills begins with enjoying books and reading as a child. This year's Summer Reading Challenge theme, Animal Agents, is designed to encourage kids to read at least six books this summer. The theme comes directly from the feedback we've received from children who told us that they love animals and mystery.
"I hope we will see kids up and down the country solving a fun mystery at their local libraries and, as they work with Bernice the bear, Daisy the rabbit and others, realising just how important being a good friend is in helping them to do that."
Dermot O'Leary, an advocate for the Summer Reading Challenge campaign says:
"My love of books started at a very young age; it played a massive role in my childhood.
"I love the Summer Reading Challenge because it enables children to transition reading from being an activity you do in the confines of a classroom to something you can do for a bit of fun in your spare time. It instils in kids a real sense of pride in their achievements, and sets them up with a positive relationship with reading that is priceless in the future.
"A person who enjoys reading is never bored, you can be anywhere - a beach, a train, a playground - and when you pick up a book you are transported into the pages and far away, that's what makes reading magic."
Alongside themes of kindness, some reigning favourites for book-loving kids are popular in libraries every year, with Jacqueline Wilson holding the crown of 'most popular children's author'. Wilson's books were borrowed a staggering 25 million times between 1996 and 2016.
Inter-generational classics also have strong staying power in the library loan list with Eric Hill, Roald Dahl and Mick Inkpen all being featured in Public Lending Right's top 20 list of the UK's 'most borrowed children's authors' every single year for the past decade.
Sign up to the 2017 Animal Agents Summer Reading Challenge by visiting your local library.
Visit the Summer Reading Challenge website for more information, games and book recommendations