Where the needs are

<p>We in the book industry are defined by our ability not only to read but to do so with great sophistication and to be articulate about books. Our fundamental concern is how to persuade readers to buy more books, not with those who can&rsquo;t read.</p>
<p>Last week saw the publication of the Bercow Report: A Review of Services for Children and Young People (0&ndash;19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs. As part of my retirement activity plan, I have just been on a training course run by Volunteer Reading Help. This charity provides volunteers to schools, and the training covers the kinds of challenges we may encounter, high on the list of which is children with those needs.</p>
<p>Volunteer Reading Help (VRH) was founded in 1973 by a magistrate who noticed that many young offenders who appeared before her were illiterate. She decided to attack the root of the problem. She persuaded some of her friends to go into two London schools to help children one-on-one, and VRH is now a national charity covering all of England.</p>
<p>My dozen fellow-volunteers are an inspiring group. Most of us, even the youngest, can&rsquo;t remember how we learned to read, and part of the training is to demonstrate just how daunting a page of text looks to a child who has none of the tools to begin decoding it.</p>
<p>Each participating primary school in the VRH scheme gets a box of materials&mdash;books, games and other stimuli; the borough co-ordinators have a shelf of books and they work with libraries; but we were told that funds are tight and the supply of new books is very limited indeed&mdash;they rely on second-hand and charity shops for purchases.</p>
<p>They also seem to have little knowledge of how to access information on new publishing. This ties in with the findings of a recent Centre for Literacy in Primary Education report, part of the Power of Reading programme (The Bookseller, 23rd May), which commented on how few teachers read children&rsquo;s books.</p>
<p>The book industry offers a huge amount of resource and guidance&mdash;catalogues, publishers&rsquo; and independent websites, helplines, instore activities, bookshops which work with their communities, and educational discounts.</p>
<p>So why is there still such a knowledge gap among those involved with the teaching of reading to the very children who most need the right books? Can we find a way to use the same energy we devote to such debates as age banding to finding new ways to bridge this gap and help more children join our still rather exclusive club?</p>