At The Bookseller Children’s Conference this morning (23rd September), Scholastic co-managing director Catherine Bell has urged publishing to “reflect all children” and engage parents so they can read to their youngsters.
In her keynote speech at County Hall, “Raise the Roof: Putting on a Show to Wow all Children”, Bell pointed to the importance of getting children under the age of five to read in improving their life outcomes.
She told the hall: “Talking to a school governor, he said they are seeing children coming to his school with limited vocabulary let alone knowing how to access books, let alone understanding how books work, due to the gadget babysitter that you see glued to both the child and the parent’s hand.
“Where’s our government led campaign to show parents of under fives how important reading together is? It’s not just about not knowing that reading is important, time-pressure and resources for lower income families present real barriers. Let’s challenge ourselves to figure out more ways to engage these families now.”
Bell talked about the Scholastic and Travelling Book Fairs that visit schools, arguing they were important in harnessing children’s passion for reading through a carefully curated range of titles.
She said ensuring children saw themselves in the books was “at the heart of our publishing vision”. Bell gave the example of Can You See Me? By Libby Scott, an 11-year-old girl who is autistic, written alongside Rebecca Westcott. The Scholastic non-fiction list had also been reviewed to ensure it captured all parts of society, including the Voices series of never before told stories from the past.
“We need our publishing to reflect the experience of all children with own, authentic voices sounding loud and clear,” she said. “With every section of the publishing orchestra playing its part we can do this in a way that is successful.”
She went on: “We should not give up supporting parents and particularly those of under fives who need to hear how important it is to read together. That’s crucial and a message that we need help sharing.
“We need to motivate, celebrate and support all reading as we lead children along the path of building their skill. We need enough places in retail, in libraries, playgroups, doctors’ surgeries and in schools for children to access books. And we need to keep publishing and thinking about reflecting all children as we move forward to make our industry more representative and to inspire and engage all children who not only see their experience in books but that they can and should be our creators of the future. And we can make it happen.
“It’s not easy, but we all need to play our part in sharing the internal passion for the projects we work on with carefully crafted publishing campaigns. We have the ability to discover talented and amazing composers, carefully take their work and all play in time, with great harmony, noise and heart to ensure a child will find the right books to make them stop and say ‘wow, this business of reading is absolutely for me’.”
Bell told The Bookseller afterwards: “The issue for is that it’s so fundamentally important to allow children to get to the age of five without a parent to be engaged is terrible. We would save ourselves so much money and resource if we sorted that. It’s funding more projects like Bookstart - because that has been brilliant at a ground level - but really working harder with the health visitors and the first point of contact when you get that baby home to make sure that the message is right the way through.”
The conference runs all day, including an appearance from Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell, the official title launch for World Book Day 2020 and Jasmine Richards, founder of Storymix, chairing a session on sustaining the careers of new authors and illustrators.