Libraries are “bracing for a book loan boom” as the Summer Reading Challenge launches this week, headed by presenter Dermot O'Leary.
The Reading Agency, the literacy charity which coordinates the project, has predicted stories on the theme of “kindness” will dominate the project as young people grapple with the “difficult events” dominating this year’s headlines.
Around 750,000 children will take part in the annual scheme, which is based on an 'Animal Agents' theme illustrated by Tony Ross, providing young people with artwork-based clues to help them crack a case set in a library. The challenge encourages children between four and 11 to read at least six library books over the summer and is available in 98% of libraries.
A Reading Agency spokesperson said: “Among the favourites this year, [we] believe 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.”
Selected titles include Can I Join Your Club? (Little Tiger Press) written by John Kelly and illustrated by Steph Laberis, about a duck who is struggling to find a club to let him join. Mercy the Hippo (Orion Children's Books) and written by Lauren St. John and illustrated Nila Aye, is about a girl whose friendship with a hippo causes problems with her family and friends.
The Reading Agency c.e.o, Sue Wilkinson, discussed how books helps promotes empathy. She said: “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.”
Wilkinson said the themes of animals and mystery were developed from previous participants' feedback. She said: “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.”
The X-Factor host, O’Leary, who is an advocate for the campaign, said: “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."
He added: "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.
The theme for the 2016 challenge was Roald Dahl 100, the celebrations marking the centenary of Dahl’s birth.
Research revealed in November showed that participation in the reading challenge dropped by 4% last year although the percentage of under-4s rose by 12%. The data showed that 755,208 children in England, Wales and Scotland took part, compared to 786,547 in 2015. Wilkinson said “at a challenging time for library services this is an impressive result”.
For more information about the 2017 Animal Agents Summer Reading Challenge, visit your local library or visit summerreadingchallenge.org.uk.