GIVING books to babies improves children's national curriculum test performance seven years later, new research has found.
The study by two Birmingham academics tracked the effectiveness of the Bookstart initative started in the city eight years ago.
Children's books, posters, poem cards and information about libraries were given to about 300 families with nine-month-old children.
Initial findings suggested that the group went on to buy more books, used the library more and was more likely to join book clubs. Parents also said they spent more time reading with their babies.
Bookstart children were found to concentrate better, joined in with reading and asked and answered more questions than a comparison group.
A study of the baseline assessment scores of a sample group of 41 children when they started school found that they were ahead in all six maths and English areas. In reading and number the difference was highly significant.
The latest research by Barrie Wade, professor of English in education at Birmingham University, and Maggie Moore, director of arts and social science at Newman College, Birmingham, records the key stage 1 achievements of a simiar-sized group.
In all the 10 English, maths and science assessment areas, the Bookstart group was superior. The differences were even more marked in the five test results.
Bookstart children achieved about level 2.5 - the national average is level 2 - compared to the comparison group who were generally between level 1 and 2.
Dr Moore said: "The findings reinforce the potential of Bookstart to make significant contributions to raising standards, not only in literacy, but also across the curriculum."
The Bookstart programme, run by the independent charity Book Trust, distributed more than 1.3 million books last year.
A question mark now hangs over the funding of the initiative, which covers 90 per cent of the country. Its current funding of pound;6 million from Sainsbury's runs out at the end of the year. The charity hopes to find out next month if the supermarket giant will continue its support.
Young people in children's homes or foster care are deprived of books and the opportunity to share books with adults. The Who Cares? Trust has launched a campaign to give young people in care the right to read.
Five local authorities - Blackburn, Islington, Kirklees, St Helens and Somerset - will run starter libraries in 35 residential homes.